June leader – Inequality is driving politics’ darkest forces

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The twin phenomena of Donald Trump’s status as the presumptive Republican nominee for president and the UK’s referendum on EU membership have deeply troubled me. And I know I am not alone – they are signals that the spirit of cooperation in the Anglo-Saxon world is faltering.

Both cases have been brought on by people who argue that open borders have done us more harm than good. They want to renegotiate the terms of collaboration. Trump wants his wall on the Mexican border. Boris Johnson (former mayor of London and de facto leader of the ‘Leave EU’ campaign) wants to make the UK great again by, er, making it harder to work with Europe? Dunno, really.

But you can’t blame people for listening. Despite rapid growth in the British and American economies over the past few decades, the middle and working classes have experienced wage stagnation. The two nations are getting richer, but lots of people haven’t benefited.

International trade and cooperation is often the scapegoat. Right-wing politicians argue that globalisation compromises sovereignty and results in immigration that disrupts social cohesion and contributes to social ills. The left, on the other hand, argues that globalisation only benefits a wealthy corporate class who import cheap foreign labour – or just move jobs abroad – both of which suppress wages.


These arguments each have a grain of truth in them. The free movement of labour does suppress wages for low-income workers, and international trade requires that we set international standards through consensus and compromise, resulting in a loss of sovereignty.

But low wages can be addressed by national parliaments, while the opportunities created by the EU’s free movement of trade and people mean that Europe is a far wealthier and stable continent than if we had not joined forces.

This wealth comes at a cost, and that cost is sovereignty. Whether it’s trade, the environment or policing, we are far more effective when we aligning our policies. Europol is an incredible force for tackling cross-border crime; EU environment legislation has given us clean air and water; and trading standards speak for themselves. To accomplish things like these, you need political cooperation, in this case, the EU.

I am worried by Trump’s anti-internationalist tone, and British politicians who want to withdraw from EU cooperation. They may not realise that they set a tone felt by the entire world. Danish PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen has already come out on the British government’s Eurosceptic line, while Trump’s nationalist message will undoubtedly be seized on by right wing and nativist forces in the EU.

Like Trump and Johnson, those who seize on a nationalist message might argue that withdrawing from international cooperation might the world more peaceful, happy, just or wealthy. But I don’t believe it for a second, and I can’t believe they do either. Instead, they are using the argument as an opportunity to push their own narrow interests, unconcerned about the massive fallout. If the UK leaves the EU Boris Johnson will likely become the new leader of the Conservative Party, while Donald Trump will be in a position to further his interests as ‘President’.

We are undoubtedly better off because of the cooperation and integration since the end of WWII. But to preserve the peace and wealth we have worked so hard to achieve, we need to ensure our wealth lifts far more people than is currently the case. Only then will we be more resilient to concerns about the effects of immigration and open borders on jobs, housing and social cohesion – only then do we really stand a chance of challenging those who flirt dangerously with parochialism and nativism.

Moving on – this issue marks the two-year anniversary of The Murmur. I just want to thank all our readers and contributors. It’s an honour and privilege to create a product that has been so well received, and to work with so many incredibly wonderful and talented people. We’re taking a holiday in June, but we will be back in August. We hope you have a great summer! M

News, Commentary

By Peter Stanners

Co-founder and Editor-in-chief. Occasional photographer.

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