Build It In Britain — Brexit nativism dressed up as an economic strategy

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When it comes to penetrating the fog of obfuscation and grasping the political impetus that has and continues to drive Brexit, an impetus around with both the Right and elements of the Left have converged, Alf Garnett is unsurpassed: “Old Enoch’s against it, in’t ‘e, eh? He don’t want no more bloody foreigners over here. We got enough bloody foreigners here as it is. Bloody country’s swarming with Eities and Krauts and Froggies and Spagnollies and Brussel Sprouts. All coming over here and taking our jobs off of us, aren’t they?”

Attempts at putting lipstick on this particular pig notwithstanding, British nationalism and nativism, spiced with a heavy seasoning of xenophobia, informs Brexit. Thus for the ideologically-driven Right it is manna from heaven, while for the Left it is the socialism of fools.

Which brings us to Jeremy Corbyn’s new Build It In Britain economic strategy, one that announces his unabashed emergence from the closet of ‘remain and reform’ in which he’d been forced to exist vis-a-vis the EU — though rather unconvincingly — in service to PLP pressure up until now.

It is not so much that Build It In Britain suffers from misty-eyed antidiluvianism in its attempt to rediscover the halcyon days of Britain’s manufacturing past; it is more that it is premised on the myth that state intervention in the economy was and isimpossible within the EU. Thus we are regaled with messaging about a supposed ‘Brexit dividend’, of which Build It In Britain is designed to exploit.

Germany’s world-leading manufacturing sector has never for a day been impeded by its membership of the EU. On the contrary, it is hard to argue that without EU membership it would have enjoyed anything like the same buoyancy, what with the access of German manufactured goods to the largest tariff-free market in the world, located on its doorstep, and what with the Common Customs Tariff affording those goods a measure of protection from lower cost alternatives from outwith the EU.

However the primary reason for Germany’s undoubted manufacturing success story is not to be found in its form but in its content — i.e. the superior quality of its products, particularly in the realm of engineering (cars, metals, and machinery).

Placing a premium on apprenticeships and vocational training, funded via private and public partnership, has entrenched a long termist industrial strategy, which flies in the face of the Anglo-Saxon, Thatcherite model that has dominated Britain’s economy since the early 1980s, engendering more latitude when it comes to planning along with a much greater ability to weather global economic shocks, such as the one that ensued in 2008.

Of course, it should not be forgotten that were it not for the sharp fall in the value of the euro as a consequence of the 2008 global economic crash, German exports would not have been able to weather the storm anything like as well as they did.

But lest anyone make the mistake of believing that all is rosy in the garden of the German economic powerhouse, the introduction of the Agenda 2010 package of economic reforms under former Chancellor Gerhard Schroder in 2003 tells a different story.

The Schroder reforms, introduced to address the problems associated with German reunification, deregulated the labour market, placed constraints on the country’s unemployment benefits system, which incentivized small businesses to create low wage jobs in the service and unskilled sectors of the economy, forcing workers into those jobs.

This is the secret to the country high employment rate, effecting a two tier economic model combining a low wage and part time unskilled sector with a relatively large manufacturing and engineering sector.

The point is that the UK economy, in which currently manufacturing accounts for 11 percent compared to Germany’s 24 percent, would require years of ‘reprogramming’ to effect the kind of vision Corbyn and his supporters have outlined. The risk to the investment that is key to the country’s economy at present, especially with trend of investment diminishing relative to France and Germany in the wake of Brexit, brings with it the risk of further downward pressure on sterling and, consequently, a threat to existing jobs. This is without factoring in the high likliehood of foreign firms with factories and plants in the UK deciding to relocate to more economically stable parts of Europe.

Then, too, the central premise of Build It In Britain that it is anathema that products such as railway carriages and British passports should be manufactured overseas is redolent of an ugly economic nationalism that surely has no place in a forward thinking society which places a priority on an expansionist engagement with the world over narrow Little Englander preoccupations with something as base and obscurantist as national pride.

Indeed what on earth is there to be proud about when it comes to a country, Britain, which in 2018 is still underpinned by semi-fuedal institutions such as the Monarchy, Privy Council and House of Lords, a state whose dominant cultural values are those which derive from its shameful colonial past and imperialist present, and in which to dare to be a migrant worker is to be depicted as the enemy within, under attack from both the Right and the Left.

Instead of pushing back against this rising tide of Brexit nativism and retrograde nationalism, Corbyn and his team have decided to try and ride it all the way to socialist nirvana. And this is about as futile as trying to nail raindrops to the wall.

The sad thing is that a Corbyn government within the EU would have a mammoth catalysing impact on progressive and left political forces across Europe, pushing back against the kind of Europe-wide nationalist and reactionary tide last seen in the 1930s, under similar conditions of economic depression, austerity and dislocation. The problem is not globalisation, the problem is that what we have at present is globalisation in the interests of the rich and corporate interests. What the left should be fighting for in 2018 is not a retreat from globalisation but to harness it in the interests of the workers at home and overseas.

‘Workers of the world unite’ anyone?

The harsh truth is that Britain outside the EU will be even more brutish and cruel than it already is within the EU — and will remain so until mass consciousness is shaped away from a British to a class and internationalist consciousness.

Build It In Britain constitutes an unconscionable pander to the former at the expense of the latter.

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