The simple paradigm between free trade and protectionism, between neo-liberal conservatism and economic national socialism will no longer wash, according to Peter Franklin in today’s Unherd.
The picture is a great deal more complex than the bi-partisan debate that has dominated public life since 1945 and is reflected in the rapidly changing face of our political landscape as the main parties struggle to catch up and respond to the anomalies of the current global economic system:
"Britain wouldn’t be Britain without its moaning minnies. And there are two sets of people who aren’t happy: firstly, the hardcore Remainers for whom any assertion of the British national interest is pure jingoism; and secondly, the free market fundamentalists for whom any government intervention in the economy is a slippery slope to the Seventies, if not downright communism.
There’s a lot going on to raise their hackles. The Nissan and Vauxhall deals won’t have happened without the Government fronting-up a portion of the overall investment. Last week, the ministers moved to sweep away the EU rules on state aid that stand in the way of further state subsidies. Ministers also decided to keep the trade restrictions that help protect the UK steel industry from cheap imports. And then there’s the National Security and Investment Bill, which was introduced last year to protect British companies from “malicious” foreign investors.
Meanwhile, Labour is trying to get in on the Government’s act: Keir Starmer has unveiled a Buy British plan to bolster companies through public procurement.
If you believe in a borderless world in which we have no special loyalty to our compatriots, then any kind of nationalism is bad. But if, like most people, you do believe in the nation state — and that a national government should put its own citizens first — then what is wrong with nationalism in the economic sphere?
The most obvious answer is that free trade is a good thing — and that Britain should not disrupt the level playing field of international competition. It’s a nice theory, but it ignores the fact that the playing field is anything but level. British industry is fighting an uphill battle, because our competitors have no qualms about tipping the terms of trade in their favour. Just look at export-led economies like Germany and China."
The full article can be read in the pdf copy below with links to the original beneath it: