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Why the left should support Brexit

MPs are wasting a chance for renewal.

A third of Labour supporters voted to leave the EU. This was not because of Boris Johnson or Michael Gove, nor because of some xenophobic dislike of Europe. We voted for Brexit because we want Britain to reset its relationship with the European Continent on terms that optimise and protect our democracy and sovereignty.

Parliamentary sovereignty ultimately rests upon the consent of the people. In the EU referendum, popular sovereignty defeated parliament. For the first time in history, MPs are required by a national vote to enact a policy they opposed.

Globalisation has created oligarchies of financiers, investors and high-skilled professionals that dominate national politics. The EU expands their opportunities and its rules work in their interests. The power they have wielded has been at the expense of the country as a whole. Brexit was a vote against their interests. It was a vote for the nation state, which remains the fundamental unit of democracy, and the best means of managing globalisation in the interests of citizens. And it was a vote born of two concerns. First, a long disquiet at the Napoleonic nature of the EU and its imperial ambitions for “ever closer union”. And second, a distrust that the British governing class would defend the UK’s national integrity inside the EU, or that it would be capable of constructing a more democratic model.

Britain has often been an uncooperative member of the bloc – better to be a co-operative partner. Outside the EU we can sustain a close relationship with our Continental neighbours, and agree a reciprocal trading arrangement. Our commitment to Europe’s defence and our valuing of its culture and science would be undiminished.

Many who voted Remain share these sentiments. Debate, however, is polarised, dominated by those warning of the dire consequences of Brexit and those guaranteeing it will be the best of all possible worlds. The outcome of Brexit will be neither.

Britain is in the top five of global military and economic players. We are a major European power with the second largest economy in the EU – twice the size of Russia’s. We have a seat on the UN Security Council and a military budget, which despite irresponsible Conservative cuts, is significantly larger than the budgets of Germany and Italy. We are part of the G7. The soft power of our language, culture and history is the envy of Europe.

And yet, for many British politicians and commentators, this all counts for nothing. They speak like apologists for a soon-to-be vassal state. It is reminiscent of the declinism that gripped the governing class after the Suez debacle in 1956. Those with the most cultural and political power have been the most vocal in their negative opinion of the country.

The Conservative government has no strategic view of the country’s future. It appears incapable of defending the national interest in the Brexit negotiations, and it has made Britain look weak and incompetent.

In opposition, Labour’s deep rifts are held in abeyance. The party should be 20 points ahead of this hopeless government but the hard left in control mirrors the hard right of the Conservative Party. It is not trustworthy and it is not credible, and the public know it. Neither of the two main party leaderships is fit to govern the country.

Brexit happened because Britain failed to put right its own deficiencies. Over the past 30 years, successive governments have overseen growing inequality and, despite widespread disquiet, historically unprecedented levels of immigration. Returns to capital reached an all-time high, while returns to labour fell to an all-time low.

A successful Brexit requires national renewal. We need an economy in which there is a fair distribution of income and wealth, and a reciprocal balance of power between capital and labour. We need a dynamic entrepreneurial culture to take advantage of the fourth industrial revolution. We need a democratic revolution to spread opportunity and share political, economic and social power across the regions, across classes and with and within communities.

We need social security and a welfare system that values contribution and equips individuals with the capabilities and assets they need to get on and lead independent lives. We need homes, vocational education, a proper system of mental health care, good jobs that are properly paid, and taxes that target the wealthy.

Brexit can restore Britain to its major nation status, or it can fulfil the predictions of the declinists and lead us to irrelevance. Nothing is decided. The majority of people do not share the turmoil of the political classes over Brexit. We need national leadership, political resolve, and a strategy for a better country. These are in short supply. The EU cannot provide them for us – only we can do that.

Jonathan Rutherford is a leading Blue Labour thinker 

This article first appeared in the 22 November 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Europe: the new disorder

Photo: Getty
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Michael Carrick is the “Geordie Pirlo” that England misunderstood

The Manchester United legend’s retirement announcement should leave Three Lions fans wondering what if?

That it came in the months leading up to a World Cup arguably added an exclamation point to the announcement of Michael Carrick’s impending retirement. The Manchester United midfielder, who is expected to take up a coaching role with the club afterwards, will hang up his boots at the end of the season. And United boss Jose Mourinho’s keenness to keep Carrick at Old Trafford in some capacity only serves to emphasise how highly he rates the 36-year-old.

But Carrick’s curtain call in May will be caveated by one striking anomaly on an otherwise imperious CV: his international career. Although at club level Carrick has excelled – winning every top tier honour a player based in England possibly can – he looks set to retire with just 34 caps for his country, and just one of those was earned at a major tournament.

This, in part, is down to the quality of competition he has faced. Indeed, much of the conversation around England’s midfield in the early to mid-noughties centred on finding a system that could accommodate both box-to-box dynamos Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

As time went on, however, focus shifted towards trequartistas, advanced playmakers and those with more mobile, harrying playing styles. And the likes of Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli were brought into the frame more frequently than Carrick, whose deep-lying capabilities were not utilised to their full potential. That nearly 65 per cent of Carrick’s England caps have come in friendlies shows how undervalued he was. 

In fairness, Carrick does not embody similar characteristics to many of his England midfield contemporaries, including a laudable lack of ego. He is not blessed with lung-busting pace, nor is he enough of a ball-winner to shield a back four solo. Yet his passing and distribution satisfy world-class criteria, with a range only matched, as far as England internationals go, by his former United team-mate Paul Scholes, who was also misused when playing for his country.

Rather, the player Carrick resembles most isn’t English at all; it’s Andrea Pirlo, minus the free-kicks. When comparisons between the mild-mannered Geordie and Italian football’s coolest customer first emerged, they were dismissed in some quarters as hyperbole. Yet watching Carrick confirm his retirement plans this week, perfectly bearded and reflecting on a trophy-laden 12-year spell at one of world football’s grandest institutions, the parallels have become harder to deny.

Michael Carrick at a press event ahead of Manchester United's Champions League game this week. Photo: Getty.

Where other players would have been shown the door much sooner, both Pirlo and Carrick’s efficient style of play – built on patience, possession and precision – gifted them twilights as impressive as many others’ peaks. That at 36, Carrick is still playing for a team in the top two of the top division in English football, rather than in lower-league or moneyed foreign obscurity, speaks volumes. At the same age, Pirlo started for Juventus in the Champions League final of 2015.

It is ill health, not a decline in ability, which is finally bringing Carrick’s career to a close. After saying he “felt strange” during the second-half of United’s 4-1 win over Burton Albion earlier this season, he had a cardiac ablation procedure to treat an irregular heart rhythm. He has since been limited to just three more appearances this term, of which United won two. 

And just how key to United’s success Carrick has been since his £18m signing from Tottenham in 2006 cannot be overstated. He was United’s sole signing that summer, yielding only modest excitement, and there were some Red Devils fans displeased with then manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to assign Carrick the number 16 jersey previously worn by departed captain Roy Keane. Less than a year later, though, United won their first league title in four years. The following season, United won the league and Champions League double, with Carrick playing 49 times across all competitions.

Failing to regularly deploy Carrick in his favoured role – one that is nominally defensive in its position at the base of midfield, but also creative in providing through-balls to the players ahead – must be considered one of the most criminal oversights of successive England managers’ tenures. Unfortunately, Carrick’s heart condition means that current boss Gareth Southgate is unlikely to be able to make amends this summer.

By pressing space, rather than players, Carrick compensates for his lack of speed by marking passing channels and intercepting. He is forever watching the game around him and his unwillingness to commit passes prematurely and lose possession is as valuable an asset as when he does spot an opening.

Ultimately, while Carrick can have few regrets about his illustrious career, England fans and management alike can have plenty. Via West Ham, Spurs and United, the Wallsend-born émigré has earned his billing as one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation, but he’d never let on.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.