Sunday, July 10, 2016

Sir Vince Cable: Brexit - causes and outcomes

Sir Vince Cable came to Winchester last week for the Winchester Festival and said we may see him around a bit in that city as he is now involved with local people who are setting up Hampshire Community Bank, a non-profit bank as per the German Sparkassen model.  On Thursday he was in Winchester to promote his book: After the Storm, which is an insider account of his time as minister in the coalition government from 2010 to 2015.

On the recent Brexit vote to leave the EU he referred us back to a paper he wrote on the politics of identity - see this 'revisting' of that 1994 paper  published by Demos in 2005 - as: Multiple Identities - Living with the new Politics of Identity . His writings showed how we are in an era when the traditional 'left/right' political classification is less and less meaningful, with people acknowledging quite different identities for themselves as the old often class-based identities fade. We now have a kaleidoscopic array involving nationality or region of origin, religion (with many sub-divisions within), or based on multiple identities such as Scottish and British and European. He says the term 'multi-cultural community' is unhelpful in describing what is actually often a very complex situation. Such phrases may stereotype and mislead into regarding very varied groups as monolithic 'vote banks' for political purposes. What we need - he quotes Trevor Philips - is a need to create a sense of shared identity called 'Britishness'. 

With the measures that followed the 2007/8 financial crisis the financial system has been kept afloat (like a heart attack victim being kept alive) with artificial injections of  ultra-cheap money, with interest rates set near zero and going lower. They are 'lower than Babylonian times' - we are in an Alice in Wonderland situation. The ongoing result is that economic output has been lost and wages are stagnant. On the other hand another effect is to pump up asset prices (property and shares). If you are a homeowner and live in Winchester or London you are considerably wealthier through this cheap money policy, but if you live in Barrow, Blackpool, Middlesborough or Hull you don't see this. Sir Vince said that the resulting envy and resentment found an outlet in a vote to leave the EU.  He also said that globalisation means that such countries as China became competitive and that many people in western countries are suffering lower living standards thereby. Elsewhere, such as in the US, this resentment  of growing inequality has appealed across the political spectrum where even the old right (Republican) wing headed by Donald Trump is gaining support as well as, to be expected, the socialist Bernie Sanders. In the UK many Labour supporters moved in the UKIP direction in the 2015 election crossing old party lines.  

Post Brexit he sees Mark Carney at the Bank of England as competent and following a predicted policy for pumping cash into the system. The £ exchange rate has dropped - which is 'no bad thing'; property prices have fallen - which is 'no bad thing'. It is likely that net bank lending will fall, but he hopes the British Business Bank will help new lending to firms and head off disaster. The next phase may involve a recession or at least an economic slow down. He is encouraged that his successor in the Business Innovation & Skills Dept. Sanjit Javid is prepared to borrow to invest, in such as housing and the railways. He hopes that a re-orientation of the economy is being planned with a long-term industrial strategy involving such as pharmaceuticals, aerospace, car production and training. 

To general laughter he reminded the audience that the Tories campaigned in May 2015 on the slogan 'Cameron or Chaos'. He did not agree with a legal challenge to the Brexit result, we need to get on with the new situation, although some fellow Lib-Dems think differently. He sees the consequences of Brexit to be massive. He is appalled there was no planning for a possible Brexit vote. The bureaucratic changes needed will involve a huge amount of work and take a very long time.    
Audience Q&A's: 
  • He expected City of London employment to drop from 750,000 to 550,000. 
  • He said that the country needed to be told to expect problems, anything falsely optimistic would bring later resentment. 
  • Aligning with his identity analysis and from his experience in the Coalition for 5 years, would he support the suggestion that prospective MP's (should an early election be called) might stand branded Conservative/Coalition; Labour/Coalition; Lib-Dem Coalition so that voters could be encouraged to vote for national unity? He said that he thought the overall opinion was that the Coalition brought better governance. Someone had likened it to decision-making 'in concrete' rather than 'in jelly' otherwise. He said old loyalties are fading, parties are fragile, but how do you change the dynamic?  He thought there might be a  move to the centre with a resurgent Lib-Dem, a Labour breakaway and the Greens. Given such a scenario the suggestion was a possibility. 
  • On the continuation of UKIP as a party, he couldn't say. Maybe the UKIP voters will stop voting, continue to, or move (back?) to other parties? 
  •  What were his views on lobbying by big business? He thought that if it is done openly it is fine, as ministers must listen to concerned people. What is to be avoided is behind the scenes influence.  
  • How could young people be encouraged to vote? He said that David Willetts in his book 'The Pinch' examined the great change that has happened between the generations recently, with life chances severely curtailed, for example in abandoned hopes of house buying for young people in their 20s and 30s and on quite good salaries.  There has been a breakdown in the contract between the generations and young people are abandoning participation in the system due to cynicism.  Sir Vince gave no solution himself.
Sir Vince's 'multi-identity' analysis gives the ideas in the book The Free Lunch - Fairness with Freedom a fresh boost. The idea is that the citizen should be placed at the centre of political thinking to bring extra basic rights to empower them. Policies would cover the financial redirection of resources, the simplification of welfare and taxation, less intrusive bureaucracy, reduced housing costs and steadier economic growth.  Whatever identities each citizen identifies themselves with would make no difference to their new basic citizens' financial rights. Rather than people opting out through alienation it would encourage their participation through inclusion. We are approaching confused and uncharted waters in political life and peaceful yet radical changes are needed to foster unity and co-operation. 

Posted by Charles Bazlinton. Author, The Free Lunch - Fairness with Freedom       
Charles Bazlinton is a director of Local First CIC which is promoting Hampshire Community Bank

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