Stephen Kinnock goes full Royston Vasey.

Change the word “British” to “American” in this quote from Stephen Kinnock’s pean to Keir Starmer’s Labour conference speech, and you get a sentiment that could easily have been expressed by Donald Trump or Steve Bannon.

“Turning to our sense of national security, there is an equally compelling story to tell. For decades, unfettered globalisation has been allowed to rip through our communities, off-shoring jobs, tearing at the social fabric of our towns, and complacently inviting Chinese state-owned enterprises to dominate our supply chains and insert themselves into our critical national infrastructure. The British people are crying out for a government that will stand up for their interests on the global stage.”

Lets look at this in detail.

It follows a paragraph in which he rightly notes “there can be no doubt that for decades people’s sense of local and national security has been eroding, to the point where we now live in what the economist and author Paul Collier calls the ‘Age of Anxiety’. But he does not examine what it is that is causing that anxiety – and indeed, growing mental health crisis – particularly amongst those being impoverished and disempowered.

That is probably deliberate, because spelling them out would lead to very different conclusions from the ones he wants to draw.

People in the developed world are now on the receiving end of tactics long employed by business in the Global South. In the same way that soldiers in Europe in the First World War found themselves on the receiving end of military technology previously deployed exclusively by them against “lesser breeds without the law” in the colonies. In the end, it all comes home to roost. So, insecure employment, zero hours contracts, hire and fire, weakened unions and bullying managements, stagnating wages, “in work benefits” as a subsidy to employers, food banks, a social security system worn so thin that the fabric is long torn, are all a feature of workers experience across the entire system; regardless of locality or nation. Its not China that is “tearing at the fabric” of our high streets, its Amazon. Its not China that is “offshoring Jobs” its businesses like Dyson. People are anxious about whether they will keep their jobs, whether their children will find decent work or housing, how they will be cared for in old age. All this is global. Not local. Not national.

People are also anxious that the future feels more like a trap than a promise. Since 2008, neo liberalism has been incapable of inclusive growth. Climate breakdown is increasingly apparent. 75% of young people globally say they are frightened by the future. 39% say they are planning not to have children. This is global. Not local. Not national.

For Kinnock, this is not about capitalism, its about “unfettered globalisation”; an enemy of the local and national. That would be the “unfettered globalisation” that Tony Blair argued for in his 2005 Labour Party conference speech. “I hear people say we have to stop and debate globalisation. You might as well debate whether autumn should follow summer.” This was before the 2008 crash. When Blair and those like him believed that it was possible to eliminate “boom and bust” and sail ever onwards and upwards, and the accession of China to the World Trade Organisation would slowly but surely turn the entire world into one gigantic American suburb. It didn’t turn out like that.

so, now, we find economic nationalism back in a big way. A dog whistle in Starmer’s speech about how awful it is that wind farm components are “towed in from places such as Indonesia”. So, workers in the developing world, getting a toe hold on industrialisation, are the threat to workers here; setting them head to head in a zero sum competition rather than complimentary parts of a global division of labour that could be win win for all of us. And what a wonderful phrase that is; “places such as”. Places that were once colonies, places that “we” could once happily disregard as far away countries of which we knew nothing and cared less, but now that they are getting uppity and wanting work, should be put firmly back in their place.

Starmer seems more concerned with jackets and towers for wind farms being made in Indonesia and Vietnam, than he does about the more lucrative and skilled jobs making the motors being done in Europe. This is a dangerously misleading trope with a racist whiff. A study on the reality of offshoring by multinationals carried out by the University of Nottingham in 2005 found that of 925 UK Multinational firms in manufacturing and 1,928 in services

  • 96 per cent of UK multinationals in the manufacturing sector had at least one subsidiary within OECD member nations, while just 20 per cent had subsidiaries within non-OECD countries; only eight per cent had subsidiaries in either China or India.
  • In the services sector, 95 per cent of UK multinationals had at least one subsidiary in OECD member countries; only 18 per cent in non-OECD countries; and just 4.5 per cent in India and China.
  • They concluded that “these findings refute the common misrepresentation that the UK is offshoring jobs largely to ‘cheap labour’ markets” and that “the truth is that the most frequent locations for foreign affiliates are other developed countries, mainly other European nations and the US.”

And Kinnock does not notice the irony in his speech. “Chinese state owned enterprises” have done rather well since the crash, primarily because they are state owned. Time was, Labour was in favour of that. Kinnock is painting a paranoid picture – two parts “Yellow Peril” to three parts “Red Menace” -akin to that of the Base Commander in Dr Strangelove. It was, of course, a dreadful thing that Chinese steel maker Jingye invested £1.2 in saving British Steel in Scunthorpe, and the 3,000 jobs that went with it. And China’s offer to build HS2 in 5 years at a fraction of the cost currently projected is obviously an evil plan to infiltrate our precious bodily fluids.

On the basis of seeking truth through facts:

  • In 2020, China accounted for 12% of the UK supply chain (imports) – the same level as Germany. The problem for Kinnock is that this proportion is growing on the basis of normal trading relations. If he wants to launch a trade war on Trumpish lines, the net effect would be the same as in the US, increased costs for consumers and an increase in economic insecurity.
  • This graph shows the sources of FDI into the UK in 2019. China’s contribution is somewhere in “other” and below that of France. So, less than 4.6% and and not exactly “commanding heights”. Kinnock seems unconcerned that US capital is inserting itself “into our critical national infrastructure” on a very large scale indeed.

It is his final sentence that is most concerning. “The British people are crying out for a government that will stand up for their interests on the global stage.” It reads like a Daily Mail or Express headline. Its as if he watches Henry V every morning before breakfast. “The British people”. As though it were a single entity with a single voice, with no contradictions and no arguments on the way forward. This is unreconstructed nationalist populism; a leading Labour politician allowing himself to be used as a ventriloquist dummy for the posturing imperial nostalgia of Boris Johnson; a kind of viagra for a sense of resentful national decline. The belief that we still live in a time in which sending a big gunboat to the South China Sea and being a mini-me for the New American Century is a route to “security” is deluded. There is nothing quite so dangerous as a faded imperial power trying to strut its stuff and strike postures “on the world stage”.

This isn’t a performance. If we want security, we have real problems to deal with – climate breakdown, Covid, poverty, racism, stopping a new Cold War. At the UN last month, Xi Jinping called for global co-operation to deal with all of them. That is the path to security for all of us.

Living in the End Times?

The Daily Telegraph used to be a reassuring newspaper in its way. I once had a mind numbingly mechanical job on the night shift in a chocolate factory; and one of the ways to keep awake was to read the Telegraph every night to keep my blood pressure up from indignation.

Though the Peter Simple column – with its fabulously nostalgic stock cast of grim booted, iron chained Northern Aldermen, and disclaimers of annexationist demands on the letters page – is long gone; the letters page itself is still full of carefully crafted missives from retired Commodores living in Surrey with double barreled names and strong views  – not blustery as they were in the immediate fallout from Empire, but quietly, thoughtfully defensive of an order that is setting us up for a fall out that will prove far greater – if we don’t stop it.

Alongside these are increasingly shrill columnists painting that fall out as an inevitability, not a matter of choice. One – Sherelle Jacobs -writing about Brexit (of course) – argued recently that “as the world turns Medieval” we are facing “a new global dark age” in which the only way forward is a renewed nationalism. British of course, not Scottish, Irish or Welsh.

There are limits old chap.

She recognises that the crisis of the world economic order is a crisis of the dominance of the United States but – in the age of “America First” manages to recast an abject subordination of the UK to the falling American star – by leaving the EU and integrating ever more closely with the US economic model

  • as careless of the environment as it is of its workers
  • with its horrendous health care,
  • convoluted and gerrymandered politics and brutal racist prison system,
  • alongside even closer subordination of military and intelligence
  • and abandoning any pretence to an independent foreign policy

as a buccaneering piece of national self assertion. Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage are trying to pull the same stunt. We will see in the next couple of months how far – and how long – people can be fooled by this. And what the fall out is if they get away with it on October 31st and the roller coaster ride begins in earnest.

She also manages to ignore the genuine threat of a new dark age as a result of social breakdown resulting form the degradation of the climate conditions that make it possible for us to – among other things – grow food. The Syrian drought between 2006 and 2011 that drove 2 – 3 million people off land they could no longer live on into cities that could not cope with them leading straight into civil war and everything else that has followed is – among many other recent events – a stark warning.

One of the most disturbing pieces in This is not a Drill – the Extinction Rebellion Handbook* is Douglas Rushkoff’s account of being paid a huge sum (half his annual professor’s salary) to brief five super wealthy hedge fund bosses about “the future of technology”.

It turned out that what they were most concerned about was how to escape the impact of climate breakdown as individuals. They were not in denial about it. They know it is happening. They are not concerned about how to use their wealth to try to avert or mitigate it. They are like passengers in first class on the Titanic less concerned about avoiding the iceberg than looking for lifeboats just for them.

They wanted to know whether Alaska or New Zealand would be less affected by climate change, and which would provide a better bolt hole. One admitted that he had already nearly completed building an underground bunker complex to move into when society breaks down, and wanted to know “How do I maintain authority over my security force after the event?” Money, of course, would have no value.

  • How could they stop the armed guards just bumping them off and taking over?
  • How could they make sure they could control a supply of food – with locks to which only they knew the combination?
  • Could they make the guards wear control collars?
  • Could they use robot guards instead?
  • Could the technology could be developed in time?

The future as zombie apocalypse movie, with most of the rest of us as the zombies.

These people are not isolated individuals. Steve Bannon, who acts as a guru for the whole international alt right, commented while he was an adviser to Donald Trump – “Half the world is going to burn and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.”

Actually there’s plenty we could do. We are already (globally) doing about a quarter of what we need to. We just need to step up the pace and work together to do it. But to do so we need to change the economic and political systems that give people like those hedge fund managers the power and wealth that they have. This is becoming a matter of life or death.

Bannon’s answer to this is to try to build walls around the world’s wealthier countries so the burning takes place elsewhere – as it has already began to do. A necessary part of this is the dehumanisation of anyone who lives in the “shithole countries” (D. Trump) that are going to burn; so the citizens of the US can watch them do so with equanimity. If that means describing desperate refugees fleeing social breakdown as criminals and terrorists, interning them indefinitely, separating children from parents, depriving them of the most basic care and amenities (bedding, toothpaste, soap) – or, in the European case – letting thousands of them drown in the Mediterranean, then so be it.

This was put in a more anodyne form by Wells Griffith, Trump’s energy and climate adviser, who said this at the Katowice summit in November 2018. “We strongly believe that no country should have to sacrifice their economic prosperity or energy security in pursuit of environmental sustainability.” This extraordinary sentence recognises that the current engines of “economic prosperity” and “energy security” in the United States are not environmentally sustainable – and are undermining the conditions for human survival – but strongly believes that that this can be ignored until everything collapses.

This is in the context of the current challenge to the Pax Americana posed by the rise of China. Sherrelle Jacobs argues that China is a “stillborn superpower” due an economic collapse. People in the West have been saying that for twenty years, not grasping that a country dominated by state led investment does not operate on the same lines as those for which the imperatives of private sector dominance trump other considerations.

Whatever critique people may wish to make of China, the current trade war

  • in which the US is doubling down on fossil fuels while China is investing massively in renewable energy generation,
  • Donald Trump prohibits mention of Climate Change in US government publications and sabotages scientific research into it, while Xi Xinping is talking about building an “ecological society”,
  • the US is planning to withdraw from the Paris Agreement and stands against international co-operation, while the Chinese favour “win win” solutions and are set to achieve their 2030 targets between 5 and 9 years early

is a dramatic illustration that there is more than one engine of prosperity and energy security. The dominant western global elite are sticking with the wrong one because they can do no other – they would cease to be an elite if they were to embrace state led investment as a way forward. Even as they are staring at total panic and terrible consequences for the majority of humanity in the medium term.

The popularity of evangelical rapture Christianity among these people – in which we are living in the “end times” waiting for the second coming and sudden miraculous escape from all our problems to those who believe hard enough –  and the increasingly delirious and irrational mode of political debate has its roots in the same fears.

This is a cry of despair from a class that can no longer claim to represent humanity as a whole – in the way they have tried to do since 1789. Every day that passes produces more evidence like this that the people who rule us are unfit to do so.

Variations on this theme are fantasies of living “off world” in space stations or – even – Mars – though Antarctica is a more benign environment -with Elon Musk’s electric car in space as a symbolic gesture in this direction. If it weren’t for the resources required to get them there it would be tempting just to let them go – in an inverted version of Ursula Le Guin’s novel “The Dispossessed” – in which a political conflict was resolved by exiling all the anarchists to the nearest moon.




*Just published by Penguin. Essential reading, but don’t order it on Amazon; ask your local library to stock it instead.