Updated: Dec 28, 2018
Below is an extract from Chapter Twelve. The introduction to the Golden Era section of the book, this particular passage explains the attraction to decline narratives on the left. It looks at how they manifest themselves, and at how they relate to nostalgia and optimism.
Revolutionary and evolutionary optimism
The previous myth, the Puppet Master, is a pessimistic narrative when it comes to human progress. As the metaphor of an ugly watch in a beautiful field suggests, the myth is libertarian at core, portraying a world which could be – and was once – pure and free, but which has been perverted by the inorganic machinery above (governments, big business, etc). This is encapsulated by the notion that global elites have hijacked the post-war consensus, imposing ‘neoliberalism’ and promulgating crassness and greed.[i]
Alan Bennett, for example, described the Tories as “totalitarian” in 2015, basing his support for Corbyn on the belief that: “There has been so little that has happened to England since the 1980s that I have felt happy about or felt able to endorse... One has only had to stand still to become a radical.”[ii] The Puppet Master narrative and a sense of decline often exist side-by-side.
Conversely, YouGov research finds that the relatively small group who say society is getting better are also the most likely to “reject conspiracies about secret elites” and to “trust institutions.”[iii]
Hence, the Puppet Master leads neatly into our third myth: the Golden Era. This refers to narratives of decline, and to the feeling the left is swimming against the tide of change. It describes a sense that things have been getting steadily worse; that only a U-turn can avert the dystopia ahead.
Golden Era believers sometimes have sunny dispositions. The myth isn’t about a pessimistic temperament. Rather it’s about a ‘declinist’ (rather than progress-based) version of history, a world steadily departing from the values we care about. The good times can only be achieved, according to Golden Era disciples, by stamping on the brake and reversing – not through embracing the things we like about the 21st century, and finding modern answers to those we don’t.
There’s a hopefulness of sorts in this. It suggests we’ll ultimately prevail over our oppressors. Hence many left populists claim to be optimists. But this optimism exists in spite of feeling things are moving in the wrong direction. It comes from a sense that the losing streak is about to end.
The chart below visualises two types of optimism. The difference is between theories of change based on revolution and those based on evolution.
We see this difference in a 2013 political spat between two comedians, Russell Brand and Robert Webb. Brand, a passionate believer in the Puppet Master, talked of his “optimism” while at the same time asserting that we were “ambling towards oblivion” as a society.[iv] Webb, by contrast, asked Brand to consider “What were the chances, in the course of human history, that you and I should be born into an advanced liberal democracy? ... I recognise it as an unfathomable privilege.”[v] He acknowledged progress despite knowing it had been too slow, and fearing advances were in danger. Brand’s optimism was revolutionary, Webb’s was evolutionary.
Attitudes to the 2018 Royal Wedding are another example. For some on the left, it was a bleak symbol of entrenched privilege, and of the media’s willingness to endorse inequality. But others viewed it more optimistically. To them it was progressive to watch a mixed-race divorcee from an ordinary background marry into the Royal family – with the centrepieces of the ceremony being an African American pastor and a Gospel choir.[vi] The difference between these positions wasn’t between values but between belief or otherwise in the Golden Era; between the view that the wedding of Harry and Meghan was proof of decline, and the view that it signified progress.
The Spirit of ‘45
Christopher Shaw writes in The Imagined Past that “the folk memories that underpin Labourite nostalgia are as enduring as the elite resonance of the stately home.”[vii] Left populism thrives on a lost past, when the ideals of the left manifested themselves in an authentic, unspoilt way. The Golden Era supplies a version of history to support this.
The Golden Era existed, according to the myth’s present incarnation, before the 1980s; before ‘neoliberalism’; before Thatcherism and Blairism blurred class lines. It represents a glorious, uncomplicated past, an extended version of the famous 1976 summer (the ‘hottest since records began’). Hose pipe bans, cut grass, the tinkle of the ice-cream van; red rosettes and the creation of the NHS.
The world said to have replaced this Golden Era is dystopian by comparison. No Nye Bevan. No Keir Hardie. No mining villages where they weigh the Labour vote… Instead we have climate change, Iraq, Syria, Lehman Brothers, Gillian Duffy, MPs’ expenses, Tesco, austerity, selfies, Ukip, Amazon, Uber, Le Pen, fracking, etc.
The documentary Spirit of ’45, by filmmaker Ken Loach, exemplifies this narrative. Produced using archive footage, it’s a paean to Labour’s post-war effort to ‘win the peace’. The film eulogises the collectivism of a time when people didn’t want much beyond a steady income and a roof over their heads – when communities were united by a devotion to egalitarian ideals. We’re shown ecstatic responses to the Labour election win, and miners shedding tears of joy at the creation of the welfare state. Anyone sympathetic to Labour would struggle to not be moved.
Loach’s idyll is brought to a halt, within the documentary, by the election of Thatcher. This ushers in a new, ‘neoliberal’ era of poverty, industrial decline and dog-eat-dog individualism – which we’re still, according to Loach, experiencing. Hence, Spirit of ’45 acts as a romantic counterpoint to a right-wing modern world which is, Loach suggests, in its “final throes.”[viii] A resurrection is nigh.
Much of Loach’s nostalgia – and that of other Golden Era believers – relates to class. Solidarity among working people is felt to have been destroyed by Thatcherism, and a longing for its return is a driver of the myth. Our friend Owen Jones describes his wistfulness for “the brass bands and union banners,” the “vibrancy,” and the “sense of pride in a shared working-class existence” that the period before the 1980s for him represents.[ix]
The contemporary zeitgeist is considered selfish, bigoted and greedy by comparison. George Monbiot, for example, mourns modern materialism, which he describes as “a social affliction, visited upon us by government policy, corporate strategy, the collapse of communities and civic life, and our acquiescence in a system that is eating us from the inside out.”[x] He argues that we’re failing to see what matters, or to live the good life.
Corbyn-supporting singer Lily Allen made a similar critique in her 2009 single ‘The Fear’. She took aim at the soulless, money-obsessed 21st century, mourning the fact that people don’t “know what’s right and what’s real anymore.”[xi]
In its party-political incarnation, the Golden Era suggests that Labour modernisers sold out on the party’s ideals. “Unchallenged by craven Labour,” Monbiot writes, “Britain slides towards ever more selfishness.”[xii] This translates into support for Corbyn, a politician seen as having been ‘on the right side of history’ in resisting most changes since the 1970s,[xiii] and into disdain for Tony Blair, the only Labour leader “who did not want to turn the clock back for a single second.”[xiv]
In policy terms, meanwhile, the Golden Era tends to identify ideal solutions from before things went wrong – rather than address present reality. Golden Era believers seek to undo ancient mistakes, or to get past policies right at the second attempt.
For example, Corbyn and McDonnell’s support for Irish Republicanism comes from the fact that Northern Ireland exists as a consequence of imperialism. The populist left have long championed a united Ireland, even after the Good Friday agreement.[xv] If we could turn back the clock to before British colonisation, a united Ireland would clearly be the progressive goal. But seeing as the colonisers are long-dead – and that a significant minority in the country emphatically don’t want a united Ireland – the goal must be the most peaceful possible compromise, not to fight yesterday’s war.
The Golden Era originates from philosophies which idealise the state-of-nature. Examples include the work of Rousseau, Plato’s idea that our world is only a shadow of the original, or the biblical notion of Eden. This raises another question: is the Golden Era a new narrative for the left or has it always existed? Whereas the Dark Knight and the Puppet Master have long been appealing devices (see the ‘social fascism’ example), the Golden Era is time-specific. By definition, you’d think, the myth couldn’t have been believed in the past.[xvi]
This is true to a point. The Golden Era account of history has gained significant extra traction since the 2008 crisis. The term ‘neoliberalism’ – used to describe the forces that have perverted and polluted the Golden Era – only recently burst into common usage.
However, a spirit of retrospection has always existed on the left. Those inspired by Corbyn may be nostalgic for the ‘authentically’ Labour 1945-51 governments[xvii] (some sport t-shirts asking, ‘What would Clem do?’). Yet the far left of the time didn’t believe they were living through a Golden Era without disappointment or compromise. Labour’s founding purpose was felt by some to have been betrayed by Attlee, a man who supported the monarchy, stuck to the post-war austerity programme, sided with America in the Korean War, signed Britain up to NATO, and made a virtue of his suburban pragmatism (“The people’s flag is palest pink,” Attlee joked).[xviii] The New Statesman claimed in 1954 that Attlee’s first government had been “the only event of its kind in history which contributed almost nothing new or imaginative.”[xix] Ralph Miliband said the 1945-51 governments merely wanted to “improve the efficiency of a capitalist economy.”[xx] And there was frustration with the “failure to redistribute wealth or break down rigid class barriers.”[xxi] Had he been in parliament, it seems likely that a rebel like Corbyn would have been the first to cry betrayal. Indeed, in 2014 he accused Attlee of “neo-colonialism.”[xxii]
So, while contemporary populists imagine the post-war years as the roar of unchallenged socialism, things at the time didn’t feel so halcyon. Even in the aftermath of a New Jerusalem being constructed, there were accusations that those who’d built it were bean-counters and sell-outs, unfit to lace the boots of the giants who’d come before.[xxiii]
Moreover, if we look at the policy zeitgeist over time (as we’ll do later), we see that the post-war years failed to match up with many modern progressive standards. Not only was poverty more widespread, the quality of services worse and the level of welfare more basic, but society was more snobbish, and women and minorities lacked basic rights. This isn’t to detract for a moment from the immense achievements of past Labour governments, which represented a huge progressive shift, but to point out the danger of holding any period up as an Arcadia.
Indeed, if you look at British history, it’s hard to find a time when left-wing values were satisfied in the way the Golden Era supposes. Closer inspection of previous Labour leaders – even those remembered as impeccable socialists – often reveals more expediency than we like to recall. Historian Tom Crewe points this out:[xxiv]
What authentic version of the Labour Party is Corbyn fighting for? Presumably one that existed before he entered the House of Commons in 1983, given that he was one of the top ten Labour rebels even in the 1983-87 Parliament. It is, I think, from the foundation myth of the Labour Party as a movement of idealists and working people, finding solidarity in the struggle for their rights, that he derives his chief inspiration. Corbyn’s hero is Keir Hardie. Yet Hardie… successfully argued for the party to be called ‘Labour’ rather than ‘Socialist’ for fear of alienating potential supporters, and refused to back campaigns for the extension of the franchise because he was more anxious to secure practical reforms… There has never been a Labour Party that has not made compromises in the hope of improving its chances at electoral success.
This brings the Golden Era into focus. As Crewe implies, the myth doesn’t just stand for an economic reading that says 1945-1979 was a socialist utopia. It also denotes the ‘foundation myths’ of Labour. It represents a quest for something departed; a spirit which was original and true; an age of real and meaningful struggle; and, consequentially, a benchmark against which modern life can never quite match up.[xxv]
In this light, the popularity of the Golden Era since 2008 can be viewed differently. In the same way as an adolescent going through a tough patch may idealise their childhood, the left breathes life into the Golden Era in times of uncertainty. Faced with a globalisation process to which we don’t have answers, a narrative of decline has gained traction.
Decline, isolationism and change
The worst consequence of the Golden Era is the failure to address the challenges of the future. In particular, the myth stops the left from finding ways for progressive values and globalisation to co-exist. [NB: When I refer to globalisation in this chapter, I refer to the process since the 1970s: international travel, mass migration, fluid capital, global media, mobile industries, bigger consumer audiences, global cities, etc].
The Golden Era was a period before globalisation. The decline the myth mourns mainly comes from the harmful consequences of globalisation – e.g. the departure of jobs abroad, the rise of multinational corporations, etc. Likewise, globalisation has rendered obsolete (for now, at least) many levers traditionally used by the left, such as command economics or domestic wealth taxes. Regaining power of these levers is difficult in the short-term, without repealing globalisation wholesale – which would involve making the country poorer and less socially open.
Believers in the myth don’t accept this. They are, therefore, amenable to resurrecting the Golden Era wholesale, believing it to be left-wing idyll from which we’ve catastrophically – ‘neoliberally’ – departed. They never engage fully with what a reversal means. At best, they behave as if simultaneous drifts to the left and to the right since the 1970s have happened completely independently of each other.
Labour’s Brexit stance epitomises this. Corbyn is a Golden Era believer, and a lifelong Eurosceptic as a result. The EU symbolises, for him, the advance of global capitalism. His precedent for this is Tony Benn’s Alternative Economic Strategy in the 1970s, which proposed that the UK become a siege economy to hold back the changes afoot. Benn campaigned against Britain joining the Common Market in 1975, and continued, throughout his life, to oppose the EU and the economic integration of nations.[xxvi]
Thanks to this philosophy, Corbyn’s endorsement of Remain in 2016 was expedient and half-hearted. He suggested triggering Article 50 immediately after the vote, and subsequently acquiesced to the government’s Hard Brexit policy. He sacked pro-EU shadow ministers, abstained on the major votes, and consistently opposed a ‘people’s referendum’ on the final deal. The party’s 2017 manifesto involved withdrawal from the single market and the end of free movement.[xxvii]
Yet throughout this, Corbyn’s rhetoric has stressed support for immigrants and refugees; for world peace, prosperity, social liberalism and the environment. These causes are advanced by the integration of countries and the march of progress (even if other causes are not). But the Golden Era description, of an all-encompassing shift to the right, glosses this over, pretending you can have both.
We see this more explicitly among the ‘Lexiteers’ (left-wing Brexiters) with whom Corbyn traditionally aligned (before the views of Labour’s membership made Euroscepticism impossible for him to espouse). Dennis Skinner and the Ken Loach openly subscribe to isolationism, for instance, while taking for granted positive developments over the same period. Loach allies Europe with ‘neoliberalism’, claiming it has “caused hardship and poverty for millions of people”[xxviii] – but remains committed to pro-migrant causes. Pro-Lexit MP Kelvin Hopkins epitomises this thinking:[xxix]
[a social democratic world] existed in the immediate post-War decades, and it worked brilliantly, with full employment, burgeoning welfare states and the living standards of working-class people rising at an unprecedented rate. We should all work to re-establish that world.
The notion that the toothpaste will painlessly go back into the tube like this is one of the great Golden Era misconceptions. The idea is that we can extricate ourselves from globalisation while losing nothing by way of prosperity or diversity.[xxx]
Indeed, the Brexit negotiations – which have been compared to the “removal of an egg from an omelette”[xxxi] – show the impossibility of returning to the ‘good old days’. Britain will have to embrace economic hardship and capitulate to anti-migrant feeling if we’re to revert to pre-globalised socialism. And even if Brexit does give British socialists extra freedom to borrow and nationalise,[xxxii] the economic hit will be such that we’ll just as likely find ourselves in a tax-cutting race-to-the-bottom to keep investors and jobs.[xxxiii]
This is why the rejection of interconnectedness – exemplified by Brexit – has united the left and right tips of the political horseshoe.[xxxiv] Nobody doubts that the castles on these respective hills are different: an inequality-free, protectionist Never-Neverland in the case of the former; an immigrant-free, colonialist Narnia in the case of the latter. But, because both view history through a Golden Era lens, they forget the things from the past that are at odds with their values. Ken Loach evokes the equality and solidarity of the 1950s – but not the dangerous working conditions, jingoism or snobbery. Nigel Farage recalls patriotism, paternalism and empire, forgetting the nationalised and unionised economy (which he’d surely object to). Both make the same backward-looking prescriptions, on the basis of wholly different memories.
Golden Era myopia is exemplified by responses, on the left, to Blue Labour. The concept, created by academic Maurice Glasman, was an effort to break from New Labour and devise a “Conservative socialism that places family, faith and work at the heart of a new politics of reciprocity, mutuality and solidarity.”[xxxv] A Eurosceptic ideal for many,[xxxvi] Blue Labour harked back not just to 1945 (which Glasman considered to be the point when Labour first became bureaucratic and elitist) but to before that.[xxxvii]
Unlike left populists, fans of the project acknowledge the gains made since the 1950s, at the same time as the losses. Blue Labourites don’t delude themselves: they simply feel that losing certain, progressive aspects of an interconnected world is a price worth paying for more community and equality. I don’t agree with this at all. But it’s a respectable view, based on compromise.
Yet Glasman’s embrace of non-progressive aspects of the past meant the idea never really caught on in left-wing circles. Commentator Neal Lawson epitomised the general response: “Two-thirds of Blue Labour I get. One third I don’t.”[xxxviii] Lawson valued the emphasis on community and curtailing financial globalisation, but was less enthused by “flag, family and faith.”
The failure of Blue Labour also shows why left-wing Golden Eras are harder to resurrect than we imagine. Labour MP Bridget Phillipson sums this up:[xxxix]
Elegiac lyricism about a vanished world of large unionised workplaces full of men doing semiskilled jobs, shared cultural experiences, shared religious affiliation, and tight community links does not amount to a plausible programme for government. That world has gone, it isn’t coming back.
let us not forget … that many of those jobs were hard and dangerous. The reality that my son will probably never work down a coalmine, and that my daughter will probably not leave school to work in a textile mill at fifteen is one I welcome, even as I worry about … what their future will hold.
Once we examine the old days, we see that progressives have achieved a lot for a group that’s been, left populists claim, “on the defensive and intellectual retreat” since the 1960s.[xl] We get a picture of a past which was more collectivist, secure and fair in some ways, but which also had much worse quality of life and more right-wing social policies. This doesn’t just apply to the rights of minorities, but to the living standards of the communities Labour historically represents. This pre-‘neoliberal’ Eden was also the era of the lunatic asylum, the Black Minstrels, the typing pool and the Secondary Modern.
Indeed, the things we like from the Golden Era often connect to the things we don’t. Perhaps workplace solidarity overlapped with the tribalism which drove hostility to minorities? Maybe stronger communities were tied up with attitudes the modern left is less comfortable with, like reliance on traditional gender roles? It’s hard to fully resurrect one side in these equations without resurrecting the other.
This applies on policy, too, to many of the areas where left populists seek to go back and ‘undo’ errors. Reversing fully the situation in The Middle East, by dissolving the state of Israel, might please some left populists. But it would also – even setting aside how bloody it would be – resurrect the issue which created the situation in the first place, of a huge, persecuted and stateless diaspora.[xli]
Industry is another policy where reversing negatives means reversing positives. The actions of the Thatcher governments meant that, compared to many European nations, Britain’s post-industrial shift was painful and unfair. But “tearing down the whole edifice of Thatcherism [and] healing Britain of the damage done,”[xlii] or re-industrialising the north in an effort to return to that era (as Corbyn has suggested)[xliii] are wrong solutions, given all that’s since happened.
[i] Writing about US politics, Jonathan Chait describes the “nostalgic” premise on which the accusation of ‘neoliberalism’ is based: “Its basic claim is that, from the New Deal through the Great Society, the Democratic Party espoused … social democracy or socialism. Then, starting in the 1970s, a coterie of neoliberal elites hijacked the party and redirected its course toward a brand of social liberalism targeted to elites and hostile to the interests of the poor.” ‘How ‘Neoliberalism’ Became the Left’s Favorite Insult of Liberals’, Jonathan Chait, NY Mag, July 2017.
[ii] ‘Alan Bennett: Tories govern with 'totalitarian attitude’, Aisha Gani, The Guardian, October 2015.
[iv] Brand says we should reject “quaint, old-fashioned notions like nation, capitalism and consumerism” and to turn our backs on “myopic” and “outmoded” ideas. He also describes democratic progress as a “valve” which “stops us reaching the point” of real change, proclaiming “this is the end!”
[v] The Webb quote in full is as follows: “What were the chances, in the course of human history, that you and I should be born into an advanced liberal democracy? That we don’t die aged 27 because we can’t eat because nobody has invented fluoride toothpaste? That we can say what we like, read what we like, love whom we want; that nobody is going to kick the door down in the middle of the night and take us or our children away to be tortured? The odds were vanishingly small. Do I wake up every day and thank God that I live in 21st century Britain? Of course not. But from time to time I recognise it as an unfathomable privilege. On Remembrance Sunday, for a start. And again when I read an intelligent fellow citizen ready to toss away the hard-won liberties of his brothers and sisters because he’s bored.”
[vi] Corbynite MP Emma Dent Coad, for example, criticised the media around the wedding, and pointed out the unequal national backdrop against which it was set. “How far we have travelled away from the compassion shown by Diana,” she wrote. Commentator Ayesha Hazarika, by contrast, saw the event in more optimistic terms: “[Meghan Markle]’s African-American roots infused the occasion in a way which no diversity campaigner would have dared to dream about… My favourite moment was the black American pastor Michael Curry, who boomed Martin Luther King … not far from where Henry VIII was buried. It doesn’t get more modern than that.”
[ix] Chavs, p.49-57.
[x] ‘Materialism: a system that eats us from the inside out’, The Guardian, George Monbiot, December 2013.
[xii] ‘Unchallenged by craven Labour, Britain slides towards ever more selfishness’, George Monbiot, The Guardian, June 2014.
[xiii] As one young Labour supporter put it in 2016, Corbyn “has been on the right side of history for the last 30 years, and dares to make the case against the widely accepted – yet failing – neoliberal economics we live under.”
[xv] Corbyn voted against the Anglo-Irish agreement, for example, and has consistently supported a victory for the republican side over a peaceful settlement. McDonnell opposed the the peace process and the creation of a power-sharing assembly. ‘Jeremy Corbyn reiterates support for united Ireland’, The Irish Times, September 2015. Similarly, Corbyn supporter and Shadow Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner suggested the Good Friday Agreement was a “shibboleth” which had been overstated – a claim he subsequently withdrew.
[xvi] Alastair Bonnett, author of Left in the Past, argues that for the left – a historically forward-looking force – nostalgia is a new phenomenon: “The idea that society can be divided between tear-streaked reactionaries besotted with the past and flint-eyed radicals staring into the future, has run its time.” Left in the Past: Radicalism and the Politics of Nostalgia, Alastair Bonnett, 2011, p.170.
[xvii] “The only Labour government these people will ever defend is the Attlee administration of 1945,” writes Phil Wood, who spent time analysing Corbyn supporters on social media. ‘Inside the world of the Corbynistas’, Sea Change blog, Phil Wood, January 2016.
[xviii] ‘Clement Attlee detested faddish radicalism – you couldn’t say that Jeremy Corbyn is his heir’, New Statesman, John Bew, July 2015.
[xxiii] The case with Harold Wilson is similar if less stark. Wilson became unpopular within the Labour left after the 1960s, despite achievements including the Race Relations Act and the end of capital punishment. Yet by the early 2010s he too was largely rehabilitated, with the Wilson administrations held up as an exemplar of redistributive socialism (see Chavs, p.156).
[xxiv] ‘We Are Many’, Tom Crewe, London Review of Books, Vol. 38 No. 16 · 11, August 2016, p.13-18. Hardie also, it’s worth noting, led a campaign against Lithuanian immigrants which was seen by many as deeply xenophobic. To stress, this isn’t to detract for a moment from the achievements of Hardie or others, but to point out the dangers of being overly romantic about the past..
[xxv] Historian Dominic Sandbrook traces this nostalgic tradition on the left back as far as it will go. Sandbrook says that, far from there being a coherent, pure tradition, the historical differences between the left and its right-wing opponents become increasingly blurred the closer you look at them. He points out the much-eulogised Peasants Revolt involved the killing of foreigners on the streets, and that the Levellers were tied to religion and the rights of property. 19th century founding Labour MPs like Ben Tillett, meanwhile, emerged from a tradition that was sceptical about left-liberalism.
[xxvi] For instance, Corbyn has asked for British products to be made on home soil again, post-Brexit – rather than by “cheap foreign labour” – and has promised to use Brexit as an opportunity to raise taxes on the rich, a pledge which will result in exactly the ‘siege economy’ ideal which Benn proposed.
[xxvii] As Corbyn put it: “What there wouldn’t be is wholesale importation of underpaid workers from central Europe in order to destroy conditions, particularly in the construction industry. You prevent agencies recruiting wholescale workforces like that; you advertise for jobs in the locality first.”
[xxviii] Filmmaker Loach wins Palme D’Or for second time, ITV, May 2016. Accusation of selective memory have often been levelled at Skinner, meanwhile. His nostalgic claim that “I worked alongside Poles, Latvians and Lithuanians, the millions of people displaced after the war. And there were never any arguments because we were all paid the same and we were all in the National Union of Mineworkers,” is a recollection that seems deeply one-sided in the context of other evidence.
[xxx] As Caroline Lucas put it in her response to Hopkins, “Even if your rosy characterization of the immediate post-war era is accurate – and I’m not at all sure that it is! – there is simply no going back to the past.”
[xxxi] Brexit: Ex WTO chief Pascal Lamy in ‘no deal’ warning, Joseph D'Urso, BBC, March 2017.
[xxxii] ‘EU law is no barrier to Labour’s economic programme’, Renewal, Andy Tarrant and Andrea Biondi, September 2017.
[xxxiii] David Marquand predicted, before Brexit seemed like a realistic possibility, that once outside Europe Britain’s prosperity would “depend, even more than it does now, on the competitiveness of her financial sector.” Rebalancing the economy in favour of manufacturing would play second fiddle. Just days before the referendum the French economic minister echoed this, arguing that Britain was headed for ‘Guernseyfication’ – i.e. a future as a financial outpost – if we left.
[xxxiv] It should be added that, although I’m using the EU as a loose proxy for globalisation, things are more complex. In a number of ways the EU acts as a buttress against the excesses of globalisation. However, the ‘either-or’ choices that membership of the EU presents plays out in miniature many of the choices which the wider globalisation phenomenon involves.
[xxxvi] ‘Maurice Glasman: Why should Labour support the undemocratic EU? The case to leave’, LabourList, June 2016.
[xxxviii] ‘Miliband speech to engage with Blue Labour ideals’, Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, April 2011.
[xxxix] ‘The conditions for Labour's previous successes are falling apart. Where do we go from here?’ Bridget Phillipson, New Statesman, November 2016.
[xl] ‘Owen Jones on The Condition of Britain: where is the left’s transformative programme?’ Owen Jones, New Statesman, July 2014.
[xli] We see this with 21st century discussions about pulling down the statues of those, like Horatio Nelson, who held unpleasant political views. If we go back in time almost every figure – Winston Churchill, Samuel Pepys, Jane Austen, even Keir Hardie – had attitudes which now look reactionary. This is because the direction of travel has been a slow move towards egalitarian values. We should be confident enough to see these individuals as complex figures who, for better or worse, are part of the journey which led us to the present point. Yet the Golden Era belief system encourages us to think their era was no less enlightened (and perhaps more so) than our own – and thus that they were monsters who should retrospectively be removed from history.
[xlii] ‘Thatcherism was a national catastrophe that still poisons us’, The Independent, Owen Jones, April 2013.