Global questions, parochial answers

Dr Roman Gerodimos

Principal Lecturer in Global Current Affairs at the Faculty of Media and Communication, at Bournemouth University.

Section 1: Context

The election results created suspense, confusion and uncertainty. They raised more questions than they provided answers. Yet, one thing became clear: Britain’s electoral and political system is unable to generate debate, solutions and representation for the really important issues currently facing the country. These issues are not local; they are not even primarily national, although they have both local and national consequences. Britain – along with many other countries around the world – is facing a set of pressing, complex and interconnected global challenges. Yet, the narratives afforded by the first past the post system (FPTP), and by the current leaders of the main political parties, were almost parochial.

one thing became clear: Britain’s electoral and political system is unable to generate debate, solutions and representation for the really important issues currently facing the country.

What, precisely, is the Government’s (or, indeed, the opposition’s) plan for Brexit? In fact, what is the plan for Britain’s role outside the European Union, and in the world at large? Can Britain count on its ‘special relationship’ with a United States led by an embattled, distracted President Trump? How will the British economy remain competitive against Germany or China? What is the future of NATO and of collective security in Europe at a time when Putin’s Russia is staging a concerted campaign of cyber attacks and intervention in the domestic politics of Western countries, triggering a New Cold War? What are Britain’s humanitarian and legal responsibilities, as a global advocate of human rights and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, vis-à-vis the millions of refugees and migrants from the Middle East and North Africa?

These are not abstract, fuzzy, questions. They affect communities and the lives of citizens across the UK: Islamist terrorism is not a purely national phenomenon; it is a global phenomenon with local and national implications. While there are certain things that central and local government can do to tackle this challenge, there are many others that require cross-national collaboration. Framing each new terrorist attack as a “barbaric atrocity” by “cowards” against “innocent civilians”, and exhausting rhetoric and media coverage on symbolic gestures of remembrance and solidarity deters serious debate and does not help address the root causes of the problem.

Climate change will be felt across Britain. It will lead to further coastal erosion, floods, drought and extreme weather phenomena, to say nothing of the humanitarian and migratory consequences on other parts of the world.

Dependence on fossil fuels cannot be overcome through national means alone. Making sustainable forms of energy economically viable requires substantial investment in research and development that can only come from broad international collaborations.

Tackling cybercrime, intellectual property theft, or the ethical, economic and practical implications of nanotechnology, biotechnology, artificial intelligence and driverless cars, all require transnational action.

Ignoring this ongoing reality – this layer of complex, globalised questions – the UK’s electoral and political system produced local, almost provincial, responses: first past the post encourages localism and the politics of the micro-community. DUP – which can only be described as a fringe party, geographically and ideologically – found itself controlling the future of the country. The swing from the SNP to the Conservatives in Scotland appears to have been driven by opposition to a second independence referendum. The Conservatives increased their vote share because they absorbed UKIP’s support, especially in the North. Labour performed well – especially across university towns – partly because students want a payback on their tuition fees. The Conservatives’ campaign was derailed by the so-called ‘death tax’ – the social care provisions in the Tory manifesto. Neither party’s manifesto included a clear plan for the Brexit negotiations. The Remain camp was not even represented as a coherent cause.

While Jeremy Corbyn succeeded in mobilising young people, and while millions of voters are concerned about inequality, Labour provided conventional answers – such as borrowing, taxation and nationalisation – without considering the structural context within which the British economy will operate outside of the European Union. Possible trade isolation and cut-throat competition would require Britain to become the ultimate tax haven and cheap labour employer in order to survive. The global, structural root causes of inequality – deregulated governance, widespread tax avoidance and tax evasion through remote havens and complex schemes – were not touched upon.

Practical solutions, such as the Tobin tax (targeting speculative currency exchange transactions), require a different mode of governance – global governance – and a different mode of global citizenship and globally-conscious political debate and representation. Over and above all the subject-specific issues facing us right now, we are suffering from a serious democratic deficit and a real need for global awareness. While one cannot expect a single national election to begin to solve these issues, the narratives and personalities of the 2017 election are a sad and stark reminder of the disconnect between the local and the global.