Brexit. Myths and Realities

 

This is the original version of my current article under this title for Labour Hub.

Tom Wood’s recent article on Labour Hub “Conceptualising Brexit” argues in a rather abstract way that withdrawal from the EU makes “Socialism” more possible in the UK; which begs a number of questions.


1) Why did a section of the ruling class want Brexit and what are they trying to do with it?
The ruling class in the UK was split over Brexit. Significant sections, especially in manufacturing, wanted to stay in.The largest donation to either campaign was to Remain from Sainsburys. The next four largest donations all went to Leave and all were from Hedge Funds.

The faction that wanted out was motivated by a desire to align the UK with the labour and environmental standards of the USA; as these are significantly lower than those operating in the EU. No paid maternity leave as a right. Lower holiday entitlement. “Cutting red tape” and letting business “off the leash” of tedious bureaucratic health and safety standards and overheads. Time for Atlas to shrug.

It was and is a class war initiative designed to shift resources from wages and social conditions to profits. An attempt to break out of the UK’s long steady decline and stagnation with a spectacular act of will that would mobilise and cement a section of the working class into a revived national project on deeply reactionary grounds. The notion that “with one mighty bound” the UK would shrug off its European shackles and boom off into the distance has not come to pass. In fact, the already deadly slow pace of business investment has stalled even further, as this graph from the FT shows: making temporary upticks feverish and unsustainable. If I were a patient with a graph like that at the foot of my bed. I’d be worried.

Line chart of £bn in 2019 value (taking into account an ONS error) showing UK business investment has underperformed the trend


As the projected economic benefits turn sour –with Richard Hughes of the Office for Budget Responsibility projecting that the long term economic impact of Brexit will reduce UK GDP by 4% – double the long term impact of the Covid pandemic -the ongoing dynamic of this is to try to keep this political bloc together by playing up the hostility to immigrants and refugees that was the dark soul of so much of the Leave vote.

A trade deal with the US, harmonising standards on their model, is still what they are after – perhaps to be consummated after the Second Coming of Trump (or one of his acolytes) after 2024.An acceleration of the creeping privatisation of the NHS, with US companies starting to take over consortia of GPs practices, is a precursor. Fire and rehire the bracing new model of labour relations, or so they hope. Such a deal will be entirely on the USA’s terms. Negotiations with the Americans by weaker economies tend to be short. The Americans write the deal. The other country signs it.

While Tom is right to argue that this was all overlaid with the delusions of restored British buccaneering grandeur and imperial nostalgia, and its apparent that some of Tory right really believe in this if Daily Telegraph opinion pieces are to be taken at face value; it was also instrumentally useful prolefeed, cutting with the grain of a deeply backward looking national culture, nostalgic for past imperial glories and fearful of the future that runs deep in older, whiter workers in “left behind” areas; who look at shuttered factories and closed mines and see national decline not the brutal indifference that characterises the care the ruling class takes of them, their communities and their lives. Sink or swim. On your bike.

Where he is completely wrong is in any notion that there was any symmetry in the pro Brexit faction in their desire to trade with the USA and China.“Glorious Global Britain” could no more be a free agent in trade than it is in military and foreign policy. Trade with China is now freezing into a Cold War framework; with pressure from the USA channelled by the right, and mainstream Labour, for increasing scrutiny and barriers to Chinese trade and investment – and even academic cooperation -on “national security” grounds. This is already doing damage to the UK economy in areas like 5G and nuclear energy. Keeping Huawei out of 5G infrastructure means using slower and more expensive Western substitutes. One indication of the consequences of this is that China’s very successful zero Covid strategy relies partly on a contact tracing App that actually works. None of those tried here works anything like as well. There are many reasons not to go nuclear, but the decision to exclude Chinese investment leaves an investment and technology gap that will be hard to fill; imposing additional costs on what is already a prohibitively expensive energy technology and a reliance on US or French companies notorious for cost and construction over runs and technical breakdowns.

What are the consequences for the UK?

Tom argues rightly that both the EU and the UK are now struggling for advantage; but the asymmetry between the economies means that this is a game of chicken between a British bubble car and a European ten ton truck.

The impact on the “home nations” is centrifugal.

The stresses in the North of Ireland are a case in point. The North remaining in the EU single market means that it has been doing rather well economically. The problem with the Protocol is for British based companies that now face additional paperwork, which has hindered their ability to sell into the 6 Counties. Attempts by the UK government to foment Loyalist mobilisations against this –shown by Lord Frost making it a priority to see the suits who front up Loyalist paramilitaries as his first port of call earlier this year– have foundered on three problems.

1. The majority of both communities in the North voted to Remain.
2. Virtually no one in the North wants a land border between the 6 Counties and the Republic.
3. The United States has made it plain that it will not support any course of action that threatens the Good Friday Agreement and is therefore backing the EU stance.

The political fall out in the North is that the DUP are in crisis, losing support to the centrist Alliance Party on one side and, more significantly, to harder line Loyalists on their right. In the forthcoming Stormont elections, other things being equal, Sinn Fein are set to be the largest Party, and would therefore take the First Minister position. Although the next General Election in the Republic does not have to be held until 2025, Sinn Fein are also currently well ahead in the polls there. There is a long way to go between here and there, and the UK and Irish ruling classes will move heaven and Earth to stop it, but either or both of these developments could put a border poll on the agenda; which could take the 6 Counties out of the UK altogether; and the St Patrick’s cross out of the Union Jack.

Tom’s argument that “Scottish nationalism has been undermined” by Brexit and presumption that there will be a Labour revival North of the Border –with Labour offering Scotland a “socialist future” is taking wishful thinking a little far. A General Election tomorrow would see the SNP increasing its support. Support for full independence hovers around 50%, mostly just below. So, not enough to successfully force the issue, but more than enough to stop it going away. Like Catalonia. The majority Remain vote in Scotland gives the prospect of independence in the EU a big market over the water to aspire to belong to as a pull to add to the push given by the sense that successive Conservative governments treat the UK as little more than Greater Little England. Even in Wales, which marginally voted Leave, support for independence is growing.

The impact of the pandemic has raised the profile and standing of the Scottish and Welsh First Minsters, who have each taken a marginally better line on keeping it under control, but have both struck a tone that has been more humane and competent than Johnson; whose standing has correspondingly shrunk. The dynamic of politics in each component of the UK is diverging and becoming more unique. The sudden ubiquity of Union Jacks – behind ministerial podiums and on a flagpole near you – has a slightly desperate air about it; as if they fear that if they weren’t there, we’d forget where we are. The tectonic plates are moving, slowly, under their feet.

What are the consequences for Tory Party and ruling class politics?

Boris Johnson’s New Model Tory Party, with Remainers purged and the Brexit Party vote incorporated, is more libertarian for the rights of business, and more draconian and repressive on civil liberties. Every time you see someone from the Covid Recovery Group banging on about the precious liberty to not wear a mask or turn down a vaccine, check out how their view on the Police Bill or the Nationality and Borders Bill. Their concern for the right to go unvaccinated or maskless is the bravado of those who believe that it is good for the soul to take risks with your life so you can go to work. The liberties they champion are all those that smooth the path to unrestrained consumption. Block a highway to try to save the planet, on the other hand, and your feet won’t touch the ground. 51 months inside and an unlimited fine for you. Standards and order, after all, must be upheld. Ever unoriginal and derivative, they are adopting themes, slogans and attack lines off the peg from the US Republican Party which sets them up for an ever more delirious politics.

Crucially, contrary to delusions held in sections of the trade union movement, they have not and do not intend to abandon austerity. Spending vast amounts to keep private companies afloat in the face of the pandemic is what you might call “socialism for bankers”. And every time Rishi Sunak has the delusion that the pandemic is all over, he starts talking about the need to get the public finances in order, reduce the debt AND reduce taxes on the rich. Same old tune.

Despite labour shortages in some sectors giving some workers a bit of leverage, overall wage settlements are running at 2%, while CPI inflation is 5.1% and RPI (which includes housing costs) 7.1%, and there is a public sector wage freeze. This is not a nativist high wage economy in the making. Quite the reverse

The sum total of “levelling up” is a bit of pork barrel spending on small scale cosmetic developments in Tory held seats – the not so subtle message being “vote for us and get a by pass, don’t vote for us and we leave you to rot”. The adjustments to the social care bill – which primarily hit poorer home owners in the North and benefited wealthier people in the South – and the pruning back of rail investment in the North – showed that they just can’t help themselves.

The extent to which the Tories are coming unstuck at the moment is that after almost two years of one of the worst per capita death rates in the world and no end in sight, the penny is dropping that we are not all in it together, they make the rules to suit themselves and cock a snook at the rest of us and, when discovered, try to brass it out with laughably ludicrous denials and evasions; and this shows what they are like about everything else.

What are the consequences for Labour?
The self comforting myth that the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn was solely a side effect of Labour’s 2019 Brexit policy has some traction on the Labour Left, because it allows us the delusion to think that the forces we are up against are nothing like as powerful as they actually are; so no deep rethink of strategy is needed.

The defeat was actually the result of every single pro ruling class political faction making it their priority to stop him over and above their position on Brexit, or anything else. So, not just the Brexit and Tory Parties, but the Lib Dems and SNP too. Had the Lib Dems and SNP actually been concerned primarily with stopping a hard Brexit in 2019, they’d have supported a temporary Corbyn led government to get that done. They chose instead to precipitate a General Election that they knew Johnson was likely to win.

This was also a concern of the US State Department, who were quite overt that they were making Corbyn “run the gauntlet” (as Mike Pompeo put it).

The function of Keir Starmer’s leadership of the Labour Party is primarily to reassure the ruling class that Labour is a safe alternative government – the B team for when the Tories fall apart – and poses no threat to their interests. Much energy has been put into being “statesmanlike” and giving the government support “in the national interest” during the pandemic. Union Jacks have been as common behind Shadow as government Ministers. A relentless purge of the left of the Party, at every level, from the removal of the whip for Corbyn, to panels for local council candidates that keep left candidates off, to the growing number of auto exclusions for ordinary party members send the message that Labour is safe for business, the rules based international order and the Atlantic Alliance.

The new Unionism even extends to Ireland, where Keir Starmer has said he would make the case for the Union in the event of a Border Poll; and Louise Haigh was reshuffled out of her role as Shadow Northern Ireland spokeswoman within a week of arguing that Labour should stay neutral.

Is Brexit a step on the road to socialism?

Tom’s central arguments are
1. that the constitutional arrangements of the EU are an obstacle to socialism and that therefore“ while Brexit Britain may be at risk of being led down a blind alley by the uber-globalists, it is also, in equal measure, able to pursue Socialism. In a post-Brexit Britain, socialists would not be restricted as they had been since Britain joined the EU”.(my emphasis).
2. “Brexit shatters the myth that capitalism can be tamed and that long term liberal, capitalist cooperation is possible.”

Constitutional arrangements are, in themselves, not an insuperable obstacle to the expression of forces in class struggle. When the contradictions get too great, they crack. Making any kind of advance in current circumstances, or even taking effective defensive measures, requires the working class in every country to be both internationalist and seek international alliances and organisation, irrespective of whether we are part of the same trade bloc or not. A struggle for socialism also means seriously engaging with countries that see themselves as socialist and connecting with the recomposition of the left globally that is currently taking place; rather than presuming that we can build social democracy in one country, while paying no attention to the actual domestic relation of class forces – not least in the Labour Party.

The balance of class forces in the Leave campaign and Brexit strategy is a bit of a clue to the direction Brexit has taken, and was always going to take. It was, and is, completely dominated by the most reactionary fraction of UK capital, which controls the Tory Party and therefore the government, with a wing led by Farage directly plugged into the most right wing fraction of US capital -always primed and ready for an astroturf revival to keep the Tories on the straight and narrow -and its street fighting component around Tommy Robinson standing back and standing by on the one side, and the small collection of “anti – EU voices on the left” on the other – some in Labour, some in the CP or from the SWP tradition. The latter would hardly have been welcome on pro leave demos, even had they wanted to go. Physical violence would have been likely. Who has the power here? Who is hegemonic? Conclusions should be drawn. There is a world of difference between struggling against restrictions on state ownership and investment from a position of strength and mobilisation –possibly in government -and looking for international allies in that fight; and taking part as a subordinate element in a movement aiming to remove restrictions on attacks on the working class driven by revanchist nationalism.

All politico- trade agreements between different nations and states are subject to stresses and none of them are eternal. The UK itself is a case in point on a smaller scale than the EU. It has held together because it was very successful as an imperial power for a quarter of a millennium. Its decline is putting its cohesion under strain.

The same applied to Yugoslavia, as a socialist federation broken apart by an economic impasse that allowed more powerful outside forces to put unbearable pressure on its national/political fault lines, with horrific consequences.

The EU is a kind of Hayekian Holy Roman Empire, with Germany big enough to call most of the shots, but not big enough to subordinate and absorb the other big economies, in the way Prussia did with the Zollverien to create the Second Reich. Its future depends partly on internal stresses, but most crucially on the centrifugal pressures put on it by the USA on the one side and China’s Belt and Road initiative on the other; and this overlaps with the eastward military drive of NATO and consequent increasingly fraught relations with Russia. It is hard to imagine that the refragmentation of the EU would follow the scenario Tom sketches of a grateful continental workers movement looking to the shining example of socialism being developed in Britain –hardly an immediate prospect in any case -and breaking away to follow our example. Two, three, many Brexits, could be more like Yugoslavia on a much bigger scale.

The UK capitalist faction that drove Brexit and is – for now – in charge are not “uber-globalists”. They are dyed in the wool Atlanticists. And so – for now – are the leadership of the Labour Party. That means being signed up for a US trade deal and complete fealty to the US alliance and the New Cold War. The dynamic of that anchors the Labour leadership in collusion with the Tory government –seen most recently in Starmer giving them credit for putting health first on Covid when they have presided over one of the worst per capita death rates in the world -and will drive them ever further rightwards. Their “gentleman’s agreement” on by elections with the Lib Dems is a precursor of the least progressive coalition option possible for an alternative government; and possibly a centre recomposition on US Democrat party lines, dumping the organic connection with organised labour, as long hankered after by Blair.

The decisive task for the Labour movement, Party members and trade unions, is to resist this.

Virus to Johnson. “Feeling lucky…punk?”

The UK economy has been hit worse by the Coronaviris crisis than any other in the developed world. (1) The OECD projects an 11.5% drop in economic activity.

Under the impact of this economic pressure, the government is compounding its problems by trying to unlock the economy before the virus is contained and without adequate systems for containing it; which sets us up for chaos.

The measures announced by the Chancellor on July 8th are hopelessly tactical, lack any strategic vision capable of mobilising people behind it; and amount to little more than a set of minor bungs to Conservative supporting sectors – the stamp duty holiday primarily benefiting private landlords, the £1000 retention bonus just a top up for firms that are secure enough to retain their workers until January.

The decisive question for any economic recovery is investment. If the government and/or companies invest, the economy is stimulated, work is done, goods are made and services provided, income is generated, tax revenue comes in, workers are hired and so on, in a virtuous cycle.

The problem we have is that we have a government which believes that the purpose of economic activity is not “the greatest happiness of the greatest number”, nor the most efficient use of available resources to enrich the lives of the people, or address deep rooted threats to our civilisation like poverty or ignorance, let alone the degradation of the environment we live in and the breakdown of the climactic conditions we need to survive. They believe that the purpose of the economy, and society come to that, is to produce profits. All else flows from that.

That’s why they are not committed to state led investment to put as many solar panels as possible on as many roofs as we can find and wind farms in all the potential places, to retrofit our housing and public building stock to reduce energy demand and bills, to strategically invest in urban mini forests and rewild swathes of the countryside, to electrify our remaining railways – to mention just four initiatives that could generate jobs while cutting carbon emissions as drastically as we need to. Instead, they are giving tiny nudges to the private sector in the hope that they will invest – in anything, they are not fussed about what – instead.

The problem with that is that they won’t. The private sector is risk averse and will only invest if it thinks a profit can be turned on the investment. If the experience of ten years of austerity – in which this approach was tried to death – isn’t enough to convince, a recent survey of company finance directors by Deloitte should be enough to administer the coup de grace. Sixty five percent of the companies surveyed said that they will be cutting investment in the next three years.

The Private Sector is not going to invest.

That is because eighty percent of them expect their revenues to decrease in the next year.

80% also believe that their business faces uncertainty – could close – in the next year too.

This is underlined by the latest projection from the Office for Budget Responsibility. And what a reassuringly anal retentive title that is; conjuring images of mean spirited accountants in their counting house, counting out their money, and taking care of the pennies so the pounds can take care of themselves. They project that – left to itself – the economy will not recover until the end of 2022 and unemployment will rise rapidly to 10% in the meantime. One in ten workers having to claim and scrape by on Universal Benefit.

For the government’s approach, there is an even more serious problem. Investment from the private sector is contingent on profitability, and most of the companies in the survey are cutting dividends to share holders and cutting down on share buybacks, which inflate the salaries of top executives. No profits, no “animal spirits”, no investment. Boris Johnson can wave all the Union Jacks he likes; his patriotic verbal bluster does not affect the hard nosed financial calculations currently being made, except, perhaps negatively as the gap between his “global Britain” rhetoric and the reality of what we are heading for at the end of the year is clearly understood in business circles.

Fewer than a quarter of firms are increasing Dividends (profit payments) almost two thirds are paying nothing.

This is overwhelmingly the case for manufacturing, in which 90% cut payments. The Manufacturing and Engineering employers organisation MAKE UK reported on 20 July that only 15% of companies are back to full time working and begged for an extension of the furlough scheme for another six months to help prevent the worst loss of skilled jobs since the 1980s. (2) With the cut off point for the scheme in October, firms are already starting redundancy processes so they can carry out the legally required consultation period before the axes fall. This is on a very large scale in manufacturing, with just over a half of them planning redundancies in the next 6 months. Other hard hit sectors, like hospitality and retail, are not going to be saved by a few half price pizza vouchers for slow days in half of August.

Of those planning redundancies, 8% are looking at between a quarter and a half of their workforce, while a third are looking at a tenth and a quarter. Imagine how it feels to be working in one of these places now.

The Chancellor’s statement that “this is not a time for orthodoxy and ideology” is about to be exposed. Without drastic government action, and direct investment, thousands and thousands of workers are about to lose their jobs, which will prevent any recovery taking place at all and put people all over the country into desperate straits. The ending of the eviction ban this week just as this kicks in adds a whole extra layer of insecurity and threat.

No doubt the government considers this bracing and character building because, instead of investing, they are planning to cut regulation and launch twenty Free Ports, which will suck such investment as there is to zones that don’t pay tax and blight everywhere else. As if what is holding these companies back from the scale of investment that is needed is the “red tape” that holds them to minimally acceptable standards of behavior towards their employees and the environment.

Crucially, this is not what the company finance directors told Deloitte. They did not say they were primarily concerned with regulation. They were very clear about the three factors which inhibited any investment plans.

1. The Coronavirus pandemic.

2. The prospect of a No Deal Brexit.

3. Worsening Geo-political conflicts (for which read Trump’s trade war with China and the fear that worse could follow). (3)

So, the three big issues preventing the private sector from investing are the central plank of the government’s agenda – “get Brexit done”- their willingness to be dragooned into a fight with China by the USA and their failure to get on top of the virus.

The paradox of this is that had a Corbyn Labour government been elected in December neither a supine response to pressure from the USA to engage in a trade war, nor a no deal Brexit would have been on the agenda. Nor is it possible to imagine that such a government would have handled the Coronavirus crisis worse than this one has. Almost without exception, the countries that have performed most catastrophically have been wedded to neo-liberalism. The allegiance of the business class to Conservative rule therefore comes across as a form of self harm, but underlines the essential perception that, for them, economic well being, even of their own firms, comes second to continued control of the economy by their class. If they are prepared to hammer themselves in this way, the harm done to the rest of us is collateral damage that barely registers on their radar.

Faced with the scale of this crisis, the response to all these issues from the Labour opposition should be clearer, louder and sharper and demonstrate the vision that the Conservatives lack.

  1. The Coronavirus pandemic. Its clear from this that squashing the virus down to nothing is a precondition for a serious economic recovery. That’s what was done and is happening in China. And New Zealand. That should be Labour policy. Not hinting that the UK will be “left behind” if it tries to do so. Particularly because the government here is instead hoping that the number of cases will continue to decline, even as they remove the conditions that enabled it to do so. Scientific advice, including from SAGE, is that this is rash and unlikely to come off. Countries in Europe that reopened when their level of infections was lower than the UK are now facing a rebound. While the UK is as yet nowhere near being in the sort of mess the USA is in, with exponentially rising infections and a daily death rate double what it was last month, there’s a sense that Johnson is looking down the barrel of the threat is crossing his fingers, touching wood and feels lucky. Labour has called for the furlough scheme to be maintained in specific sectors, which is a sensible bottom line and the least that could be expected from a half competent government, but to retain jobs we need a far stronger commitment to a jobs guarantee that involves retraining and redeployment from sectors that are going belly up and to actually put the vision and plans for a green transformation right up front as an alternative to the collapse that the Conservatives are about to preside over. A Green Jobs campaign is imperative. The UK commitment to this – £3 billion -is excruciatingly small.
  2. No Deal Brexit. 65% of companies have made no preparation for conditions after 31 December because they don’t know what they are going to be. Here we go, over the cliff. What the wreckage will look like on the beach next year is anyone’s guess. Labour made a mistake in not pushing for a transition extension. We should argue for a unilateral declaration of continuity with existing arrangements until a deal can be made and ask the EU to reciprocate.
  3. Connivance in the growing US Cold War with China. This is already impacting on inward investment. Tik Tok has already shelved plans to build its HQ outside of China in London – losing a potential 5 000 jobs. The removal of Huawei from the 5G network, and proposals to extend this to 4 and 3 G, will both cost directly and cut the efficiency of the broad band service available (because Huawei technology is in advance of any of its competitors). The increasingly aggressive campaign from Ian Duncan Smith and his allies on the right of the Conservative Party to join with the US in breaking the world economy into two spheres of influence will be very damaging for all concerned – even if, as too often happens, trade war does not lead to the real thing as it escalates. A nervousness about this on the part of the government, who have given quite a slow time scale to strip out Huawei technology and hinted to the company that they are doing so under duress and might back off once no longer under Donald Trump’s heel (so much for taking back control), has not been matched by any doubts from Labour’s foriegn policy team, who are trying to prove to the US that they are back to being Atlanticist true believers and have been urging the government on. This is a disastrous policy that should be reversed.

Anneliese Dodd’s comment “If people felt Labour was only criticising and not suggesting solutions, they would question what on earth we’re doing” is quite right, but requires some solutions to actually be put. That would mean

  1. Argue for whatever action is necessary to protect public health and eliminate the virus as the fastest way to be able to regenerate social activity (not just the “economy”).
  2. Put forward a plan for massive state led investment in green transition both as an end in itself and a way of generating the employment we need to avoid economic collapse.
  3. Resist the demands from Trump for the world economy to be broken in two and for the UK to tie itself to the less dynamic half – with the USA projected to account for 3.3% of world growth in the next two years to China’s 51%, according to the IMF, and developing countries, most of which will align with China, accounting for over 40% of the rest.
  4. Argue against a No Deal Brexit and for an extension of current arrangements to prevent even further economic disruption as we go into 2021.
  1. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/jun/10/uk-economy-likely-to-suffer-worst-covid-19-damage-says-oecd
  2. https://www.makeuk.org/news-and-events/news/furlough-extension-vital-for-key-industry-sectors-to-prevent-jobs-bloodbath
  3. Figures and quotes from the Guardian 20/7/20. Few signs of optimism in boardrooms as firms cut investment, dividends and jobs.
  4. https://www.wri.org/resources/charts-graphs/green-stimulus-spending-country

The US and UK are standing on thin ice – and have no claim to the moral high ground.

“I tremble for my country, when I reflect that God is just.” Thomas Jefferson.

In Monday’s Commons debate on scrapping the Hong Kong extradition treaty, Conservative MP and former Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood said the following, ” For decades now, we have turned a blind eye to China’s democratic deficit and human rights violations, in the hope that it would mature into a global responsible citizen. That clearly hasn’t happened. Is this now the turning point where we drop the pretence that China shares our values?”

The accusations made against China are grim ones which they strongly deny, but coming from the countries that brought you – just in recent years – waterboarding and other “enhanced interrogation” techniques, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, Special Rendition, the Fallujah Free Fire Zone and extra judicial drone assassinations (with 601 casualties in Yemen alone between 2011 and 2017) (1) you have to wonder what human rights values “we” have been modelling; and how China has supposedly diverged from them, by allegedly doing what we have done in plain sight for so many years.

It has to be said that it is a strange sort of “genocide” in which the ethnic group supposedly being targeted is rapidly growing in numbers and proportion of the population, and an odd kind of “cultural/religious suppression” in which the number of Mosques has increased by a factor of ten in the last thirty years. Just over 2000 Mosques in Xinjiang in 1989, over 24 000 now.

Our Values?”

Does Mr Ellwood mean that a tough line with street protests to “dominate the streets or you’ll look like a bunch of jerks”, is way out of line with anything a Western power would contemplate or carry out? (2) If so, he hasn’t been paying much attention lately or, indeed, ever.

Does he mean that mass incarceration is unacceptable? This would be odd, because the USA currently locks up 2.1 million people, 25% of the total global prison population; way above any other country and far more per head than China does; while England and Wales, with 145 prisoners per hundred thousand people, have the highest per capita prison population in Western Europe and Scotland is not far below; all well above China’s 118 per hundred thousand (3).

Land of the free?

Can he mean the exploitation of free, or ludicrously cheap, prison labour to produce goods for well known companies? Again, this would be odd because that’s what US prisons do. McDonalds, Wendys, Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Verizon, Sprint, Victoria’s Secret, JC Penney, KMart, American Airlines and Avis are documented beneficiaries. (4)

He can’t mean interning people without trial who are in rebellion against the state, because that’s what the UK did in Kenya, Malaya, Cyprus and the North of Ireland and the US did with its “strategic hamlets” programme in Vietnam. So, that would be completely in line with “our values”, wouldn’t it?

Nor can he mean that sterilising ethnic minorities is out of line with “our values” , because that’s what the US did throughout the twentieth century at home- 25-50% of native American women in the 1970s, a third of the female population of Puerto Rico between 1938 and 1970, countless Black women given unnecessary and involuntary hysterectomies (Mississippi appendectomies), 150 prisoners in California as recently as 2010 – and to many more abroad throughout Latin America and beyond, including up to 200 000 indigenous women in Peru in the 1990s. (5)

He can’t mean disregarding local democratic rights and imposing an unwanted regime from the outside, because that’s what the United States has done 20 times by invasion and another 56 times by interventions short of that since 1949. Some of these have been very bloody. Two million Vietnamese killed, half a million Indonesian Leftists massacred in 1965, thousands and thousands throughout Latin America for decades. Whatever you think of China, it would take them a long time to catch up with a record like that.

Nor can he mean communities feeling unsafe at the hands of the police force that is meant to “protect and serve” them. The chance of being shot dead in the streets by the police was approximately 2000 times greater in the US than in China in 2019. (6)

The raw figures for 2019. USA 1004, China 2. The US population is a quarter of China’s.

Perhaps he means having a threatening military posture to intimidate other countries? But here again the US posture is far more threatening, both in terms of military expenditure, on which the US spends $4 for every $1 spent by China…

Who is threatening who here exactly?

…and even more starkly in terms of overseas military bases, of which the USA has 800 and China has 3.

Even the UK has 16, more than five times as many as China. If you look hard, you’ll just about see them.

Who isA Global Responsible citizen”…?

A responsible global citizen faces up to the fundamental challenges facing humanity and seeks co-operation to solve them. The gravest threat to all of us is climate breakdown. China is committed to the Paris Agreement, has met its targets early and raised them. The United States under Trump is walking out of the Agreement on the grounds that “we believe that no country should have to sacrifice economic prosperity or energy security in pursuit of environmental sustainability,” Wells Griffith, Trump’s envoy to the Katowice COP 2018. (7) If every country adopted the US approach, we’d have no hope of avoiding the melt down of our civilisation. Its not mature and its not responsible. The unilateral, selfish action they are taking threatens all of us with catastrophe. Mr Ellwood does not appear to have noticed, or, if he has, does not think this to be of any significance.

In the immediate global crisis caused by COVID19, the records of China, the UK and US certainly show a divergence in values. China put public safety first and, despite an initial fumble by local officials, managed to crush the virus and keep domestic deaths down to just over 4600. In the UK and US, by contrast, commercial considerations and half baked libertarianism has led so far to almost twice as many deaths in the US as there were cases in China with the virus well out of control and infections rising exponentially again. The most conservative figure for UK deaths is ten times the Chinese total (and therefore 200 times the rate per capita). A little humility about this on the part of the people responsible for it might not go amiss.

The political effect of this in China has been to boost the standing and legitimacy and standing of Xi Jinping and the Communist Party. (8) This was always far stronger than Western opinion has ever been able to comprehend, but looking out from a society that has been kept largely safe – as well as having risen from extreme poverty in living memory – the mounting casualties and sheer chaos of the “West” shocks and horrifies popular opinion. The first duty of government, after all, is to keep its people safe. Job done there. Not here.

Economically, the Chinese economy is now recovering. It was already larger in purchasing parity terms than that of the United States before COVID hit. The seeming insanity of the efforts by the Trump administration to reopen their economy while cases are rising is explained by their fear of falling further behind. The IMF projects that 51% of world growth in the next two years will be in China. The US, by contrast, will account for just 3.3%.

As the virus spreads exponentially again, pushing the US proportion of global deaths back up to 15%, from a low of 9% last month, employment and economic activity have gone through the fastest collapse in history. This stokes the US political crisis and fuels the Black Lives Matter uprising. This titanic crisis of health, survival and livelihoods – and the Trump adminstration’s callous indifference, bluster, denial and authoritarian incompetence- has revealed to a popular majority that the enemy is at home and in high places.

The controlled response to the virus in China has saved the world many infections and deaths. That of the USA continues to threaten any other country that trades or deals with it.

China has put a moratorium on debt repayments from 66 struggling developing countries. The USA has imposed sanctions on Iran and Venezuela. (9)

China has pledged that any vaccine developed in the country will be a common good for the whole world. President Trump has applied “America First” even to this, cornering the market in available treatments, gazumping other countries supplies, while, with the UK, insisting on patent rights (which puts pharma profits above cheapness and availability). Clearly a divergence in “values” there.

The increasingly delirious accusations being made against China – which in the media are presented as a labyrinth of mirrors, with each story of each allegation being reported as though they were evidence of it – reflect the desperation of a US ruling class who can feel the earth falling away under their feet. The majority of the world, as reflected in UN votes, do not believe this US narrative. Twice as many countries voted with China on both Xinjiang and Hong Kong as voted for “Western” resolutions; which were supported only by wealthy close US allies, the imperial bubble that likes to think of itself as “the global community.”

And the Left?

The dominant current in the UK Labour Movement, the Labour Right, historically gives the US complete credence. Even devotees of an “ethical foreign policy” are usually highly selective about where they look to demonstrate their ethics. I hope that what is written above is enough to convince that this position doesn’t have a leg to stand on – morally or in any other respect. For the right, this is a matter of realpolitik, so whats true doesn’t really come into it. But there are also currents that identify themselves as “far left” and take a militant line on domestic politics, but never saw a US intervention they didn’t like, nor a State Department attack line they are unwilling to shout through a social media megaphone. For all the reasons above, a pro Washington line is the most reactionary position that can be taken and, in current circumstances, will lead those that espouse it down a road towards giving the USA the social support it needs to threaten a war that could kill us all.

Others, more on the left, will have no illusions about the messenger, but will accept part or all of the message; and will consider articles like this too uncritical. The bottom line here is, that whatever critical view is held about China, or actions it is alleged to have taken, these currents do not line up with Washington and are not willing to allow themselves to be used in giving support to the war drive that is already taking place in economic sanctions and aircraft carrier deployments.

It is stopping these that is the imperative. Arguments about other matters will only be able to continue if the gathering momentum towards war and environmental collapse are stopped and the precarious structures of global co-operation are strengthened.

1.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Targeted_killing#/media/File:Graph_of_Average_Casualties_in_US_Drone_Strikes_in_Yemen_2002-present.png

2. https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/06/02/transcript-of-trumps-call-with-governors-dominate-or-youll-look-like-a-bunch-of-jerks/

3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_incarceration_rate

4. http://blackeconomics.co.uk/wp/big-businesses-that-benefit-from-prison-labour/

5. https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/unwanted-sterilization-and-eugenics-programs-in-the-united-states/

6.https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_killings_by_law_enforcement_officers_in_the_United_States

7. https://www.washingtonpost.com/gdpr-consent/?next_url=https%3a%2f%2fwww.washingtonpost.com%2fworld%2feurope%2fthat-was-awkward–at-worlds-biggest-climate-conference-us-promotes-fossil-fuels%2f2018%2f12%2f10%2faa8600c4-f8ae-11e8-8642-c9718a256cbd_story.html

8. https://www.scmp.com/comment/opinion/article/3093825/beijing-enjoys-greater-legitimacy-any-western-state

9. Petition against these sanctions here. https://docs.google.com/forms/u/0/d/e/1FAIpQLSeX3BVo8lQy2bDBmjcbJkphiP_HI9tnrTnI_DZlKo8DTZFJcw/formResponse