The future of the left since 1884

The Commonwealth, Europe and the left

Could you imagine a decent political leader from the Commonwealth seeking the advice of a British front-line political figure on the ‘left’? That looks ever more unlikely if things carry on as they are. The - at times - comical...


Could you imagine a decent political leader from the Commonwealth seeking the advice of a British front-line political figure on the ‘left’? That looks ever more unlikely if things carry on as they are. The – at times – comical travails of recent events seem more suited to the 60’s slapstick Carry On series that parodied great British ideals. Sometimes it isn’t funny when life imitates art. How could any left-leaning type from the UK suggest they have the moral authority to have a leadership role on the international stage? Carry On Abroad? Pull the other one Sargent(!) Well, unless they are honest about recent failings and boldly argue for a better future, the global leading role of the British ‘left’ is in danger.

An inability to form a national credible opposition and an arguably perfunctory attempt to keep Britain in the EU suggest advisory words of collectivism and undividedness will struggle to connect with political associates across the globe. The left-right political equilibrium has long given the Labour party machine and its members a headache, of which the impending fourth industrial revolution will clearly highlight. British ‘left-wing’ politics may no longer have the global-fame it once had and before its obituaries are written, perhaps it can find new life.

On reflection, the left-wing case for Britain’s membership of the EU never quite made sense. Centralising decision-taking in the hands of a semi-unaccountable technocratic elite, was always going to struggle with the idea of collectivisation of political power for the masses. It may have been politically convenient to see Ukip and the 52 per cent as political adversaries, but political approaches that are closed, nonpartisan and protective in manner are bubblegum elite-politics.

Political associates around the world will want to avoid emulating this. David Lammy’s suggestion for parliament to ignore the referendum and Tony Blair’s remarks on the referendum itself (public can’t be trusted to make ‘sensible choice’ [April 2015]) encapsulate the electorate’s view of an unpatriotic and aloof lefty political-elite, who question the intelligence of the electorate. As hypocritical and cavalier as some political leaders in the Commonwealth may be, the British left needs a wakeup call to realise some of these arguments fall on the same side as questioning the intelligence of women or ethnic minorities to vote.

Political leaders in the Commonwealth are likely to have mixed feelings about Britain’s exit from the EU. For most, they will Carry On Regardless, a bleak sign of the decreasing relevance of Britain on the global stage and its uncertainty future. On one hand, there will be optimism as Britain is liberated to trade with other economically expanding parts of the world. Though Brexit would alter contractual trade agreements between Commonwealth states and Europe, May’s Brexit government is likely to proceed pragmatically and efficiently. Existing contracts within current frameworks will be upheld, such as the Cotonou agreement, which is a series of economic partnership agreements that govern trade relations between EU and Africa.

There is likely to be more optimism for African states, with the introduction of the common agricultural policy having distorted trade to the detriment of African states. The policy drives African farmers to ruin, by allowing high EU subsidies for European producers, as African farmers struggle to compete with the artificially low prices of the Europeans. Additionally, UK development aid given directly to countries through British organisations like the department for international development are often allocated more efficiently than those through the European development fund. The UK will no longer be forced to view Commonwealth countries through the prism of the EU and is likely to deepen its relations with countries directly.

Britain’s rugged withdrawal from its empire in the 50’s (initiated by a pro-decolonising Labour government) and its declining economic strength, were some of the elements that hastened the original move towards the European political project. Forget the empire striking back, according to commentators on the left, Britain’s withdrawal from the EU looks more like an attack on international cooperation and globalism. This is not so. People in the political class who defend similar pro-EU ideologies will Carry On Behind if they refuse to accept the left-right political spectrum is failing to provide a useful framework for debate and discourse in a world at the cusp of the fourth industrial revolution. There is a strong need to offer a politics that genuinely addresses the public’s desire for democracy and accountability in a way that sees their identities and cultures living on.

Whilst socialist values may be found in the EU, the British ‘left’ have failed to show its public as such. If things carry on like this, the British community of ‘left’ thinkers may lose their moral authority on the global stage. To borrow a phrase, the need to be “tough and test and challenge our leaders” has never been so high. Britain should provide the future examples of how this can be done. Renewing the left, rather than simply carrying on, might be a good place to start.

Image: Jori Samonen


Adebusuyi Adeyemi

Adebusuyi Adeyemi is Chair of the Young Fabians Health Network.


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