A month ago, our president wrote an erudite and passionate plea for the voters of this country to participate in the political process with a moral consciousness rather than be manipulated by impersonal economic influences pervading from the City. Indeed, the vote to leave the European Union on 23 June was effectively a declaration that matters of sovereignty, with a particular reference to legislation and the control of borders, should trump economic considerations – a fact that should provide optimism to those who concur with the desire that our president stated. Moreover, you would be hard-pressed to find an individual who would disagree with the appeal for government to fulfil its role as the “nation’s collective consciousness”; Members of Parliament are, after all, the people represented.
It is important, however, that the division between the moral and the economic is not expressed too concretely; the two are not independent from one another, and economic arguments do not necessarily lack a principled grounding. Indeed, whilst government is the nation’s collective consciousness, it is also the body that is legitimated by its efforts to ensure the security and improve the standard of living of the citizens it represents. Sovereignty is not an end in itself, and the government’s role in improving people’s lives should always be at the centre of thinking on the subject.
Whilst it is crucial that our political participation has a moral dimension, individuals often make decisions based on what is going to be in the interest of their family. Painting the government as a servant of banks and corporations is unhelpful – MPs who campaigned to remain or leave did so because they believed it to be in the interests of their constituents. The justification that voting to remain in the EU was morally correct because of the belief that it would ensure the population’s financial security, is a sound one, both for those that voted and the politicians that represented them.
The most unfortunate consequence of the referendum has been that globalisation has been thrown under the bus as part of the lampooning of European institutions. Although we have taken the decision to leave, globalisation more generally should not be a victim of the process.
Globalisation certainly has costs and benefits, but the Conservative Party has always been of the view that the latter outweigh the former. Setbacks are more overt, and trends like the loss of manufacturing jobs to economic migrants or outsourcing are sharp illustrations of the challenges that globalisation presents. But we shouldn’t belittle the immense good that globalisation has done as a result. EU immigrants who arrived between 2000 and 2016 have added more than GBP 20bn to the UK’s public finances. Additionally, important though often invisible benefits like the availability of imported goods and corresponding increases in purchasing power aid the lowest economic percentiles the most. The pros are not strictly financial either; just ask the more than 200,000 students who have profited from the Erasmus Programme, or the numerous families that can obtain a free travel visa to Australia for holidays.
It is difficult to disregard the notion that international finance has an enormous influence on how we live our lives and structure our thinking – the fall of sterling is evidence of the interrelation between markets and political decision-making. Whilst this may rightly be lamented, these items represent barometers of international reputation: Brexit, for outsiders, appears to be a decision motivated by isolationist and insular sentiments, unless we as a country prove otherwise. The only way we can do that is to realise that globalisation has the potential to do great good if we manage and regulate its manifestations.
We must now get on with the job of exiting the EU with the best agreement that can be secured for the people of the United Kingdom. Shunning globalisation should not be a part of this. The Conservative Party should stand tall as a champion of free trade and globalisation outside the EU, unafraid of touting the enormous benefits we enjoy as a result of global economic integration, and committed to fighting for a Brexit that does not compromise those benefits. Certainly, the disadvantages of globalisation must be confronted: transnational tax accordance as well as spending on re-training programmes for those who have lost jobs in manufacturing are good places to start. Yet with that in mind, globalisation should not be viewed as a domineering financial leviathan, but an opportunity that, if harnessed, can bring untold riches that are not strictly economic.
by James Vitali, member of the UCLU Conservative Society