‘Taking Control’ is a Delusion. This is the Age of Post-National Politics

Michael Gove is deluded to think we can ‘take back control of our destiny’. The long-term trend is toward supra-national inter-governmentalism.  

On the main sticking points of this referendum - migrants and refugees; money and finance; accountability and democracy - there is little any national government can do to ‘take control’.

The two main political parties may be split but their traditional wings have both settled for ‘Leave’: the left wants a ‘bigger’ government with ‘smaller’ interests; the libertarian right a ‘smaller’ state.

Jeremy Corbyn’s own taciturn ambivalence undoubtedly shares something of Tony Benn’s analysis of the EU as a ‘capitalist’ rather than ‘socialist’ organisation whose institutions preclude any real democracy and which relies on the ‘trickle-down’ effects of capital, mixed with market regulation where possible to provide a ‘good-deal’ for its citizens.

It’s a picture of beneficial capitalism which has become increasingly difficult to defend. Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza, despite holding a parliamentary majority with the nationalist Independent Greeks, has still been unable to withstand the undemocratic orders emanating from outside of its electorate in the form of the ‘Troika’. The imposition of contingency is likely to become the norm. Our institutions of governance must take on an a further supranational character as national economies becomes more and more entwined with the global.

Simply put: communal problems require communal solutions and the EU is an example of such a development.

The likely next global financial crisis unsurprisingly requires a global consensus 

The financial crisis of 2007-2008 made it apparent that stability was only brought to the global economy through a concerted international effort: there was a moment of what many might now consider supreme leadership (or, more cynically, simple necessity) when Gordon Brown and Alastair Darling began putting together their five hundred billion pound rescue package in the autumn of 2008. Brown, unconvinced by George Bush and Henry Paulson’s Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 and subsequent Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), responded to the on-going financial crisis by preparing immediate funding for troubled banks through the Bank Recapitalisation Fund and the Bank of England’s Special Liquidity Scheme. In addition, the government also underwrote lending between banks at the same taxpayer’s expense.

These ostensibly Keynesian measures, denounced by Cameron and Osborne’s in almost, at times, Hayekian terms, had no sooner been implemented than a similar international effort followed. The central banks of the UK, the Eurozone, the US, Cananda, Switzerland and Sweden all collectively lowered their interest rates by half a percentage point under the auspices of the OECD. Whether any of these central banks have the capital or their attendant governments the sheer political will to avert another market crash remains to be seen. The likely next global financial crisis unsurprisingly requires a global consensus as to how its effects can be mitigated.

For some countries and nation-states policy has already been taken out of the hands of their democratically elected representatives. Even the most cursory of glances reveals that the IMF, World Trade Organisation, and World Bank align themselves with the increasingly infamous ‘Washington Consensus’ that had been so brilliantly betrayed by Brown’s 2008 bank recapitalisation.

The UK had the resources to escape a similar ten-point scheme - though Cameron’s government has enacted aspects of the same programme: selling off national assets or the (select) introduction of austerity. Despite this, Osborne’s deficit reduction timetable has been pushed further and further back as the Treasury struggles to juggle diminishing economic returns of austerity policies with the necessary stimulus for economic growth. However, George Osborne has more room for manoeuvre than most: many states - in Africa, South America and also Europe - now face the prospect of economic liberalisation without the promised tax receipts.

That economic policy must be neo-liberal or austerity-mandated surely puts to bed any continuing suggestion that nation-states can practice economic sovereignty in an increasingly globalised economy.

The same goes for law-making in general. There is a trend toward compliance between state regulation for the ease of trade and movement of capital. Increasingly trans-national corporations want to be able to sell their products easily and with minimal tweaking in as many markets as possible. This is, of course, a double-edged sword depending upon one’s politics. But some of this has been good for consumers: the EU requires goods sold in the common market to meet the same consumer protection criteria. Product safety policy and legislation undoubtedly prevents unsafe products reaching consumers but also works to promote, in the words of the European Commission, ‘the high quality of European exports.’ The question of whether this is true consumer protection or a trade racket is contentious.

Whether we remain or stay, an increasing percentage of our laws will have to adhere to international standards. According to a Norwegian Government commissioned report, seventy-five per cent of EU laws and regulation were ultimately included into their own domestic legislation. There is no reason to think that Britain would not find itself in a similar situation vis-à-vis the EU and the wider world.

Post-national politics is apparent on a global scale

It goes beyond economics. Increasing co-operation between governments is vital if we are to take serious action against climate change, an issue that clearly cuts across national boundaries and borders - those invisible yet social lines on the map that nature disobeys. It presents a clearly communal problem. The British Government is already committed to honouring various climate change targets due to the Kyoto Protocol and Climate Change Act (2008). It also negotiates European targets through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Deals such as the 2015 Paris Agreement are important. Many parts of our globe are no longer habitable because of human caused climate change. It is a truly communal problem that requires a communal solution. There will be no solution to climate change unless it is international in scope and consensus.

Post-national politics is apparent on a global scale. The power of our geopolitics is reinforced through the NATO and its requisite 2% GDP on defence spending. There is the obligatorily World Economic Forum at Davos; The Group of 10; the G7, 8, 10, and 20; the International Labour Organization of the UN; the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation; The Association of Southeast Asian Nations; the African Union; the Mercado Común del Sur in South America and the Unión de Naciones Suramericanas both of which seek the free movement of trade and peoples on the continent (as well as, those who care for the Falklands take note, solidarity with Argentina with regard to Las Malvinas). There is also, closer to home, the Russian-dominated Eurasian Economic Union comprising Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Russia.

If we are to be realistic about the future we must recognise that both conflict and consensus will be increasingly mediated through international bodies, intergovernmental institutions, and supranational structures.

The world is moving toward closer unions, blocs, and alliances with which our small democracy will have to deal with in future. These are fundamentally attempts to exert greater control over forces that isolated governments can do little on their own. So ‘Vote Leave’ may promise many things but ‘control’ is not one of them.

Daniel Graham

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