Monday 10 June 2013

Globalisation isn't happening

I spent last weekend in the Derbyshire Dales where my mother was brought up, and it had a dreamlike quality which I had forgotten.

Wandering through Bakewell in the sunshine also reminded me of one of the fundamental truths of globalisation – we are living in what is paradoxically a decreasingly globalised world.

I don’t think this just because I spend more time in Paris, Brussels or New York than I do north of Watford. Or just that I go to Edinburgh, Leeds or Manchester but not the swathes of the nation in between.

I isn’t just because a rare visit to Middlesborough, or even Harrogate, feels like a different country to south London. Its voices, faces, language and culture seem different, perhaps because they are different.

No, I’m confirmed in the sense that globalisation is a fantasy by the results of the 2001 census which found that half of us in the UK, and rising, live within 30 minutes of where we were born.

That is also about needing to be near free childcare because both partners of most couples need to work now to pay the mortgage or rent. They need to be near their parents. But it isn’t globalisation.

What I did see in the well-dressing at Ashford-in-the-Water, where we stayed, was a ‘children’s well’ dressed to celebrate 30 years of the Disney Channel. Now, that is globalisation, and here is the difference: because globalisation is not the same as Liberal internationalism.

Globalisation is about brands monoculture and monopoly. Internationalism is about diversity.

Globalisation is about widening gaps between rich and poor, centre and periphery, urban and rural. Internationalism is about closing the gap.

Globalisation is about money. Internationalisation is about culture.

When Jean Monnet said that, if he had founded the European Union again, he would have based it on culture not trade – he was saying something very important about the differences between globalisation (or mondalisation as the French coined the phrase) and Liberal internationalism.

Where Liberals have been too forgiving to the EU, it is because they have muddled the two. Just because an institution claims to be international does not make it Liberal.

It seems to me that Liberals bring an insight to the debate about the difference between nationalism and self-determination.

The saving grace of the EU is that it draws the claws of the nationalists – who represent the opposite to Liberals in any ideology. It blurs national boundaries. It means that Scots or Catalans can determine their own affairs if they want to, within the overarching structures of the EU.

It means we can be diverse and look after our own affairs, if we want to, without being either absolutely in or absolutely out of the nation. That is the basis of the Anglo-Irish agreement too.

My great-aunt used to say that the only nationalism which English Liberals were prepared to smile upon was Irish nationalism, and there is some truth in this. But it means that, when I am in favour of Scottish independence, or even Yorkshire independence, within an international framework – as I am – it is because I am a Liberal not a nationalist.

And because I believe that small nations are a fundamentally peaceful and humane architecture for the world.

The great Liberal John Maynard Keynes set out the difference pretty clearly, it seems to me:

“I sympathise with those who would minimise, rather than those who would maximize economic entanglements among nations. Ideas, knowledge, science, hospitality, travel — these are things that of their nature should be international. But let goods be homespun wherever it is reasonable and conveniently possible, and above all, let finance be primarily national.”

Except for what he says about money, this is absolutely right. Money has to be all three.

That is the Liberal answer to globalisation, it seems to me. Ideas, knowledge, culture has to be the basis for internationalism. This isn’t a basis for outlawing international trade – quite the reverse – but it is a basis for relying on it a bit less.

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