Did you get what you voted for?
In order for democracy to work, we have to continue to buy into the idea that the best way to influence the way we are governed is to vote for what we want. It’s a central part of the belief system, that your vote is your power.
The biggest frustration isn’t so much when you find yourself among the losing minority, but when you win but still don’t get what you voted for.
Last week, senior research fellow at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) Marley Morris wrote about the connection (or lack of it) between the kind of Brexit the UK public wants, and the one they’re getting. He outlines the perceived motivations for Brexit as follows:
“The earlier campaigns for leaving the EU were at heart free-market and libertarian: they argued that the UK should break free from the protectionist shackles of EU institutions, set alight a bonfire of EU regulations, and forge new trade deals around the world.”
It’s a picture that no doubt plays a part in the “Global Britain” slogan favoured by Prime Minister Theresa May in characterising our position: we’re cutting those restrictive ties with the EU in order to free ourselves to make stronger allies elsewhere, broadening our horizons for lucrative trade deals and new economic opportunities.
Except, of course, that those motivations for Brexit, that appetite for deregulation and new trade deals simply isn’t there. While it may have been true of anti-EU campaigners in the 1990s, it’s not actually true today.
Working with a polling company, IPPR “tested how the public would navigate a series of binary trade-offs in the negotiations — on trade and regulations, on immigration and services, on the ‘level playing field’ and state aid” — to get a clearer understanding of their vision for Brexit.
The results might surprise you. In a series of trade-offs, respondents favoured consistently higher standards on employment and environment, preferred alignment with EU consumer, environment and employment rules over deregulation, and favoured greater state aid flexibility over EU state aid limits.
In one excellent measure of how people feel about lowering standards in order to secure trade deals, 82% favoured maintaining current food safety standards over lowering them for a trade deal with the US.
Where “Global Britain” seems to be code for deregulating to secure trade deals, the British public seems pretty firmly against.
As Morris summarises:
“The vote to leave the EU was therefore far from a call for the UK to become a buccaneering, deregulated Singapore-on-Thames; instead the public appear to expect a larger state post-Brexit, with tougher regulations on everything from environmental protections to financial policy, additional controls on immigration, and more opportunities to use state aid. The referendum was more a vote for re-regulation than for de-regulation.”
The Brexit vote, in effect, was an appeal for today’s unregulated globalisation to be properly regulated; for its negative effects of excessive immigration and wealth inequality to be adequately mitigated and compensated for. For Morris, however, the answer is to simply reflect the public’s priorities in the Brexit negotiation process. But is that enough?
The capacity for government to actually meet the public demand for regulation hinges entirely on the idea that we still believe they’re actually in control.
But as I discussed in a previous piece, the race to the bottom on regulation goes beyond our relationship with the EU. Instead, it is part of the wider global problem of Destructive Global Competition — the process that sees all nations competitively de-regulating their economies in order to attract globally mobile capital. But this is a dynamic no nation — nor even the EU — can control. With global capital now roaming freely and globally, the race to the bottom on regulation is already unstoppable and Brexit will only make it worse. Whatever deal the UK and the EU negotiate, it won’t be enough to reverse the course.
Instead, we’ll need to make our voices heard on a much larger scale than this. Getting what we vote for is always going to be at risk while our responses to global problems remain nationally-focused. If we want better regulation, it’ll need to be implemented globally. And for that, we’ll need a global campaign that’s really up to the challenge.