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A united future begins as a tangled mess

In trying to explain Donald Trump’s stunning election as U.S. President, Stephen Harper – in his latest book, Right Here, Right Now: Politics and Leadership in the Age of Disruption – identified a divide between “those who live somewhere” and “those who live anywhere”.

The ‘”somewheres,” on the one hand, are the typically common folk in society. They fix boilers, grow food, and drive buses or taxis. They are the ‘locals’ who keep communities ticking over.

The “anywheres,” on the other hand, do not rely on any given place. They work for international businesses, or have university degrees which give them freedom to choose from a pool of nations where they can make their living. Their work, in the long run, helps to integrate nations into the growing global community.

Somewheres, according to Harper, make up the majority of the population in Western countries; but he claims the anywheres have been dominating politics – that is, until the recent shift in political trends, resulting in Brexit, Trump, Boris Johnson, Le Pen, Doug Ford, etc.

Harper believes ‘somewheres vs. anywheres’ (an idea borrowed from British journalist David Goodhart) is the new divide in present day political fault-lines; and he advocates populist conservatism (which, he confesses, is really just conservatism) as the solution.

In regards to policy, he writes:

Conservatives should remain pro-market, pro-trade, pro-globalization, and pro-immigration at heart. Going in a completely opposite direction in any of these areas would be a big mistake with serious ramifications. But being pro-market does not mean that all regulations should be dismantled or that governments should never intervene. Being pro-trade does not imply that any commercial arrangement is a good one. Being pro-globalization should not entail abdicating loyalty or responsibility to our countries. And being pro-immigration should never mean sanctioning the erasure of our borders or ignoring the interests of our citizens.*

In short, being pro-something is not an excuse for ideological tangents.”

With all respect to Harper – I genuinely think that his observations are astute – he seems, contrary to his stance of anti-ideology, attached to his conservative values.

Proposing conservatism as our solution is akin to a commercial with no relevance to the product it is supposed to advertise. 

Here’s a fictional example: a Zen master speaks beautifully about what it takes to become a guru; then it is revealed that he is eating a Big Mac.

Similarly to that commercial idea (I’ll be expecting a cheque, McDonald’s!), there is real wisdom in Harper’s reflections; but conservatism, like the Big Mac, is not the answer.

The somewheres vs. anywheres situation feels, to me, like a struggle between the old world and the new world – between the comfortable nostalgia of the past and the potential grandeur of the future.

In resolving this division, it is important to first recognise that somewheres and anywheres actually need each other. 

Somewheres need anywheres to provide the Western ideals, and the promise of a brighter future; anywheres need somewheres to keep everyday society going.

There is, then, importance in Harper’s beloved conservative values: in striving for the ideals of the future, we shouldn’t forget where we’ve come from.

In the same way that a flower cannot grow without its roots, our future, globalised society won’t grow without our (already established) foundations. Tearing our roots apart – no matter how tangled and distorted they have become – will create more problems than it solves.

Nonetheless, we are experiencing what is, arguably, the greatest revolution in the history of civilisation: the digital revolution. 

The lifestyle – and potential – of the human race has evolved enormously in a miniscule amount of time … and the changes we have seen could yet prove to be the tip of the iceberg.

The new, seemingly infinite world of the internet, and the rapidly improving technology at our disposal, is not something that can be governed by the traditional nation states that populist conservatives are so fond of.

And while Harper acknowledges the need to be pro-globalisation, he is also dismissive of the global community’s relevance, describing it as “a mere notion.” But, similarly, all nation states also started out as abstract concepts; and in a world where the internet/social media are so relevant, the global community is more real than ever.

There must have been something in pre-historic times that forced tribes to work together; and our current situation as separate nations mirrors that in a number of ways.

These circumstances hold the potential to deliver an exciting future; but they also hold the potential of a frightening one. For that reason, it is vital that such delicate times are dealt with intelligently and carefully. There is no point of reference in history for how we might fare in this digital/technological age, so traditional conservatism alone is not the answer.

We need an eclectic, innovative approach. It’s true that we should conserve and protect our roots; but we should also actively nurture our global community, because there are too many problems that nation states cannot solve alone.

Still, these divisions stand stubbornly in the way of such sensibilities. It is becoming increasingly important for people and countries to listen to each other: but are humans capable of that? I’m still not sure.

_____________________________

Right Here, Right Now: Politics and Leadership in the Age of Disruption (2018).

Brexit – What’s the big deal?

Brexit is arguably the U.K’s biggest political event of our generation – its ripples continue to shake, and the nation is more divided over it than it has been over anything in decades.

So: is Brexit really such a big deal? This article will attempt to unpack that question.

What is Brexit?

Brexit is the motion for Britain to leave the European Union (E.U).

When the British electorate voted in the 2016 referendum, the result shocked the world of politics – not so dissimilarly to Donald Trump’s election as U.S. President.

From over 33 million voters (a 72% turnout), those who voted to ‘Leave’ made up 52% of the vote; whereas those who voted to ‘Remain’ amassed 48% of the vote.

Due to such fine margins, the referendum has not ended the debate – not by a long shot. Here in Britain it is virtually impossible to go anywhere without overhearing a conversation, or glimpsing some headline about Brexit.

And, 3 years on from the referendum, Brexit has still not been implemented.

There are a number of reasons for this – such as the refusal of so-called ‘Remainers’ to accept the result. (https://www.bollockstobrexit.com/ )

Furthermore, U.K Parliament – equally as divided as the population – hasn’t managed to agree on how to implement Brexit.

Parliamentary conflicts triggered Theresa May – a Remainer prior to the referendum – to resign as Prime Minister. (https://www.ft.com/content/082d16f8-7dfd-11e9-81d2-f785092ab560)

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What’s Happening Now?

Disputes as to whether or not the majority of the population is still in favour of Brexit are ongoing.

There is a claim that, leading up to the referendum, the Pro-Leave campaign lied to the electorate – Boris Johnson, Conservative MP, has been summoned to court to answer for those claims. (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/may/29/boris-johnson-appear-court-eu-referendum-misconduct-claims )

However, there are examples of lies from both campaigns – and in this era of ‘post-truth’, where the authority of ‘facts’ is open to interpretation, it seems unlikely that Johnson will be prosecuted.

In another display of post-truth, the U.K’s results in last week’s European Parliament Elections imply different things depending on who you listen to.

Remainers argue that clearly Pro-Remain parties collectively outperformed the Pro-Leave parties clearly in favour of a so-called ‘hard Brexit’ (leaving the E.U with or without an E.U trade deal). Remainers, therefore, believe there is a mandate for a second referendum, where the electorate will have an opportunity to change its mind. (https://www.politics.co.uk/blogs/2019/05/27/european-elections-remain-triumphant )

But Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit Party, dismissed these claims as ‘absolute tosh’. He, along with the other ‘Leavers’, point out that 75% of activists in the Conservative Party (currently in government) are Pro-Leave, and taking their numbers into account proves that the appetite for Brexit still exists.

Judging the true message of these results is challenging; but the country is certainly still divided.

What will happen next?

Following Theresa May’s failure to deliver Brexit, pro-Leave candidates are dominating the race to replace her as Prime Minister (the current favourite is Boris Johnson). https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/0/next-prime-minister-uk-odds-candidates-boris-johnson/

It seems likely, then, that Brexit will finally go ahead on the 31st October – with or without a deal.

Will the U.K be better off?

It’s hard to say for sure whether or not the U.K will be better off.

‘Euroscepticism’ (anti-E.U feeling) is not only present in the U.K – it is spread all across Europe.

Euroscepticism also transcends the traditional politics of ‘left and right’ – the pro-Leave Brexit Party, as well as the pro-Remain Change UK, are made up of former supporters and members from both the Conservative and Labour parties.

Here are some basic arguments to LEAVE:

  • The E.U is undemocratic and adds a needless layer of bureaucracy.
  • Freedom of movement encourages immigration, adding strains to services like the NHS.
  • It has treated member states badly when in economic crisis (particularly Greece).
  • Industries, including the fishing industry, have suffered.
  • Calls for a ‘United States of Europe’ and a European army possess a dystopian flavour.

And here are some basic arguments to REMAIN:

  • The E.U has succeeded in keeping peace between European countries.
  • Global issues can’t be tackled without cooperative organisations such as the E.U.
  • The E.U provides checks and balances, preventing governments from getting too powerful.
  • Some supporters actually prefer E.U politics to their own national politics.
  • Freedom of movement is a two-ended stick, providing opportunity and improving economy.

There are counterarguments to the arguments from both sides of the debate, and it seems unlikely that either side will convince their opposition any time soon.

Nobody truly knows if the U.K will be better off or not.

So what’s the big deal?

From a democratic standpoint the referendum has been won, so Brexit simply must go ahead.

But the debate won’t go away.

Brexit is a topic which people have identified with far more than they ever identified with the traditional ‘left vs. right’ politics – and when Brexit is finally delivered, it is likely that the debate will still be relevant.

And that’s the big deal. Brexit engages people.

It may seem obvious that the U.K has more pressing concerns than E.U membership – like poverty, the environment, and its own government’s flaws (which will still exist after Brexit).

Still – for better or worse – that will all have to wait.