Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I am pleased to be able to move the Motion in my name. I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests.
Tomorrow, President Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. This is something that most commentators did not expect and critics did not take seriously. Indeed, it appears that the majority of American voters did not, and do not, want it. In March, Theresa May will trigger Article 50 to begin the process of leaving the European Union—again, unexpected and not overwhelmingly supported. Because these events were not predicted by most decision-makers, the populist and nationalist rhetoric that fuelled the campaigns were not challenged as forcefully and effectively as many of us feel they should have been.
How did we get here, and what should we do about it? It appears now to be conventional wisdom that globalisation has led to increasing complexity across society and across the world, and this has also led to inequalities of impact, even given that the world economy has grown faster as a result of globalisation. The shock of the 2008 crash has exacerbated all this. Post-war decades of sustained improvement in living standards have been followed by a period of relative stagnation for many individuals and communities. Well-paid industrial jobs have been lost and have been replaced by, in many cases, lower-skilled and lower-paid jobs. Public investment has been cut, services are under pressure, and that is leading to a sense of alienation—aggravated, I would suggest, by the conspicuous earnings and consumption of a few individuals and corporates at the top, who are beyond the reach of Governments, in some cases, being internationally footloose.
Into this ferment, populist and nationalist movements have found opportunity to exploit grievance and fuel anger. The standard analysis from them has been along these lines: “The liberal elite are out of touch. They don’t care about you”. Ironically, these words have been delivered by well-off, expensively educated groups, who have not themselves suffered as those they seek to recruit. Being dedicated to promoting anger and resentment, with a chorus of media cheerleaders behind them, it has been relatively easy to build support in the wake of complacency among those who believed that the benefits of international trade and open liberal societies were somehow self-evident. Misrepresentation of facts, contempt for experts or informed opinion, and the promoting of lies, half-truths and post-truths have gone largely unchallenged, in the belief that established wisdom would prevail.
We have seen the success of the Brexit campaign, the election of Donald Trump and the rise of populist and nationalist movements across Europe. Their success at storming the bastions of the established order has not been replicated by them in the form of any coherent analysis or forward plan. It is characterised by a series of vacuous slogans such as, “I want my country back”, and “Make America great again”, implying some vague, half-remembered and non-existent memory of a golden age. In Scotland, the SNP slogan is similar: “Help us build a better Scotland”.
Now that these movements have secured their place in decision-making, what will they do? The Brexiteers do not agree on how leaving the EU should be achieved and what form non-membership of the EU should take. I suggest that Theresa May has hijacked the referendum, claiming that it meant the end of freedom of movement and leaving the single market, when no such clarity of intent conceivably exists. More seriously, she does not appear to take account of how the other 27 members will react. She seems to think we can leave the EU without making any further contribution or being bound by any of the rules, but retaining most of the benefits. What it may mean for immigration is even less clear. We will end free movement but continue to accept immigrants on our own terms, yet many—but by no means all—of those who voted to leave did so in the belief that we could halt or drastically reduce immigration. It is now pretty clear that that is not going to happen.
Another strand of the argument was that we could bring home the budget and spend it on the health service. Looking at the Trump agenda, we see similar manifestations. Just as leaving the EU appears to mean tearing up not just our comprehensive trade agreement within the single market but all the EU external trade deals, so US international trade agreements are to be torn up or abandoned. On the one hand, we are being lectured that the existing agreements inhibit trade, with no evidence to support that assertion; on the other hand, the new world order starts with scrapping most of the international agreements. In America, restrictions are to be put on Muslim immigrants to the USA, millions of Mexicans are to be deported and a wall is to be built at the Mexicans’ expense. The implication is a bit like a movie being reversed: the loss of jobs and investment in America’s rust belt—or the north of England, the south-west or south Wales—will simply be reversed.
How should we respond to this challenge? First, we must face down lies and misinformation and offer alternative information. We must demand explanations of policy options that can address the grievances that are highlighted. We must also examine policy options which may aggravate grievance and promote those that can offset them. We should not overreact. George Osborne’s alternative budget undermined the case for remain by being far too specific about the likely outcome of a highly uncertain situation. We should surely avoid similarly vacuous or offensive slogans such as, “Brexit means Brexit”, “We will have a red, white and blue Brexit”, or, “If you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere”. Actually, that is precisely how some global corporations choose to behave.
In Scotland during the independence referendum, we had some success in facing down the claims of the nationalists, notably their claim that Scotland could leave the UK and keep the pound. Actually, they asserted that they could keep the pound under more favourable terms than any of the regions of the remaining UK. But post-Brexit the nationalists are at it again. Having spent almost nothing on the remain campaign, leading to SNP voters delivering the largest proportion of leavers, they are now expending a great deal of taxpayers’ money on a fruitless attempt to try to secure a deal that keeps Scotland in the EU as the rest of the UK leaves. This ignores the fact that the UK single market is crucial to Scotland and that the case, conditions and timescale for Scottish accession to the EU—post an independence referendum—are exceptionally uncertain.
Put together, all these arguments amount to: “Never mind the uncertainty. Although we have no idea what future arrangements can be achieved, how long they will take and how much damage will be caused by the long-term uncertainty, we should, to quote Churchill, ‘Just keep buggering on’”. I and these Benches beg to differ. To address Britain’s future responsibly, it is sensible to put the shape of our arrangements outside the EU to the people. Many of Britain’s friends—and America’s, for that matter—are concerned at where we might be heading. Are we turning in on ourselves? How will we work with allies as we dismantle many established co-operative arrangements?
Two issues which can act as litmus tests on how we face the world relate to our overseas aid programme and our membership of the European Convention on Human Rights. On the aid programme, the Government have made it clear that they will maintain their commitment to delivering 0.7% of GNI as aid. However, the Prime Minister has appointed an aid-sceptical Secretary of State and there has been a crescendo of media reporting with the objective of getting the budget cut. It is worth noting that social media and official comments coming from DfID consistently set out the positive achievements of our aid spending, but Ministers seem less willing to defend their department’s record, or at least to set it straight given the partial and inaccurate information in many reports. As it is, the dramatic increase in spending on humanitarian relief in the wake of the Syrian refugee crisis and the conflict in Yemen have led to some cuts in forward development programmes, which are further hit by the fall in value of the pound and deteriorating trade balances between the UK and developing countries. These development programmes are designed to build resilience and capacity, helping countries to better serve their own citizens and, in the long run, reduce their aid dependency. If we were to cut our spending and back away from longer-term commitments, it would reinforce the image of a Britain turning in on itself and away from its long-term relationships, many of which have involved close connections for two centuries or even more.
More alarming is Theresa May’s revival of her earlier ambition to take Britain out of the European Convention on Human Rights. She may seek to make an intellectual case for repatriating those rights and making the Supreme Court the final appeal. However, that would give an awful signal of a UK, which was the architect of the convention, downgrading its commitment to human rights in international law. In 2015, we celebrated the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, Britain’s gift to the foundations of political and human rights and the rule of law. The populists and nationalists whose voices are so loud now have, I suggest, at best a selective view of human rights but mostly a contemptuous one: that we should do whatever we please in whatever, at any given time, we believe to be the interests of the majority, however defined.
In four years, Americans will have the opportunity to throw out Donald Trump; by contrast, Theresa May has resolved that leaving the European Union, a highly complex process that fundamentally changes our constitution and redefines the rights of our citizens and legal residents in the UK, should be determined by a simple majority and resolved as she thinks fit. Few genuinely democratic constitutions can be changed so easily, certainly not the American one. That stance is, I suggest, profoundly undemocratic and entirely justifies the case for putting the shape of the final agreement to the people, whose motives and expectations on 23 June were clearly very mixed. What she claims to be a clean Brexit will be anything but.
We will not simply stand by if we see the Government taking free rein to pursue a strategy that we believe will leave Britain isolated and politically damaged for generations to come. We must not leave the field to the ultraconservative opponents of liberal and pluralist values. We must stand up to malicious populism and nationalism. To those hurting from the fallout of our faltering economies, we must show our determination that values of tolerance, openness and fairness can help to build vibrant and successful communities and opportunities across the whole of the United Kingdom and beyond.
It is not liberalism that has failed but the loss of liberal values, with too many financial and corporate institutions abandoning integrity and social responsibility, and political leaders tearing up the rulebook and undermining essentially liberal institutions. We should not succumb to the wreckers who are now in ascendancy. We should stand up to them and challenge them, with a reassertion of liberal values of fairness, inclusion, openness and tolerance. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, for giving us this opportunity to examine our own consciences and careers. I say that because the rise of populism and nationalism is the result of the failure of conventional politics—and all of us are of course involved in conventional politics. To the extent that populism and nationalism have become powerful in this country, it is in some measure a result of our own failures.
The words of this Motion are directed to the wrong target. It is not populism and nationalism that pose the main threat to the liberal international order. They are the symptoms rather than the disease. The way in which that order is working is provoking the resentment and hostility within many countries that poses the real danger. In his column in the Sunday Times last Sunday, Dominic Lawson wrote that,
“misery is a measurement of the difference between expectations and reality”,
which is a very good aphorism. Since the 2008 financial crisis, that misery index has risen to dangerous heights because the political parties and conventional politics in so many western countries have failed.
Some of the reasons for this are common to a number of countries, including this one. The handling of that financial crisis and what has happened since is obviously one. The banks were bailed out, which was absolutely necessary to prevent an economic breakdown, but no bankers have gone to jail or been held personally responsible. Meanwhile, other sectors of the economy have experienced closures and the attendant job losses, and many people have had their lives thrown into chaos. This has done much to discredit conventional politics and business leaders, and thus to fuel the rise of nationalism and populism.
Another reason common to many countries has been the handling of the combined effects of globalisation and technological advance. While some sections of society have benefited beyond the dreams of avarice, others have lost out badly—none more so than relatively unskilled men and their families. I believe that their problems have not received the priority they deserve in political debate and political programmes. It is no wonder, therefore, that they turned in large numbers to Donald Trump in the United States and are turning in large numbers to UKIP in this country.
Other factors are particular to some countries and regions. For instance, the way the eurozone has functioned has had the opposite effect from the one intended. Far from bringing the people of the eurozone closer together, its workings have driven them further apart and led to a rise in nationalism in a number of countries in northern and southern Europe.
While these developments have been working through the system, conventional political parties, of which many of us in this House are members, have paid little heed to the anger boiling up around us. The most obvious example in this country is the length of time it took us to focus on the concerns surrounding immigration. We failed to explain how the country benefits from immigration and why it needs it, and to tackle the social tensions and deep-seated social fears that it created. It was a double failure: a failure to explain and a failure to act.
I shall give another example of how in this House and in another place our priorities have sometimes diverged from those of the electorate and given rise to anger. While so many government programmes that touch on the lives of ordinary people have been cut or subjected to strict spending limits, the aid programme, to which the noble Lord referred, has been privileged to a unique and unprecedented degree. It is guaranteed a share of GDP, and those who run it are legally obliged to spend up to the limit. This is absolutely the reverse of the way every other programme works. I am not against aid—I am in favour of it—but it is no wonder that privileging the aid budget in a way that no other budget is privileged causes anger and resentment among people who are not prejudiced, not lacking in compassion and not unreasonable, when they compare that with what is happening in the NHS and social welfare.
My conclusion is not that there has been an underlying shift in the standards and values of electorates across the western world. It is rather that Governments and Parliaments have in too many cases, including in this country, failed to take sufficient account of legitimate public concerns. This has left the way open for populists and nationalists, and we must all ask ourselves how much we as individuals are to blame.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, for his opening speech. I agree with much of what he said. I surprised myself by finding myself agreeing with the opening statement by the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat: that a lot of this is due to our failure as politicians and as political leaders of this country. To be popular is good, even though I have worries about populism, and to challenge the elite is also good. To some extent, that is why I am proud to be a Member of this House: because we have that challenge function. However, we are living through catastrophic times—and it is not just the outcome of the referendum in this country, the outcome of the US presidential election and the rise of the far-right across various countries in Europe. It was summed up in Michael Gove’s famous statement that people have had enough of experts. Unfortunately, I think he might be right. Understanding and exploring that is part of our challenge, but it presents a catastrophic challenge for us in trying to make decisions if the expertise upon which those decisions are made is no longer given credence. I have never felt more disfranchised by politics than I do now. The only reason why I continue to be here and to be part of the political party to which I belong is that we are so well led in the House of Lords by my noble friend Lady Smith. We have an absolute absence of leadership nationally, internationally and almost everywhere I look in popular terms.
Why do I think there has been a rise in populism? To an extent, I want to turn to neuroscience, which it is relatively fashionable to do. In an episode of the BBC’s “Four Thought”, Katz Kiely, whom I know, talked about two natural states we have as humans. One is a reward state, which has evolved to keep communities together by making us social, collaborative, creative and able to concentrate to make good decisions. It is in our interest to be social and to work together, which is why we have that reward state. However, we also have a threat state, which evolved to escape predators. It makes us stressed, angry and resistant, and our memory and performance are impaired. We find it difficult to make good decisions in the threat state. Since threat is much more important to us because it is about surviving attack by predators, and being social is a bit more of an add-on, we are six times more likely, in terms of our neural pathways, to be in a threat state than a reward state. It appears that that is what some of our populist politicians are playing to in creating that sense of threat and division.
Much of that threat is because of people’s fear of change. There is huge economic and societal change. The noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, spoke well about the change in the nature of work, the future of work and how we are seeing these larger disparities between rich and poor. For me, the biggest failing in the international liberal order is that we have not updated and understood the failings of an economic model that came through in the 1980s and has persisted ever since. The value balance between investors, consumers, workers and society is out of sync. According to the latest Stock Exchange reports, investors are doing well. Consumers are also doing pretty well. We are getting quite a lot of free stuff digitally and we are very demanding about getting next-day delivery from Amazon, yet that is at the expense of the 1.7 million workers in the logistics sector, most of whom are being horribly exploited by the supply chain that starts at the top with us wanting instant delivery and cheaper prices. Society is struggling with climate change and health services crises, and an education system that seems to be educating creativity and genius out of people rather than universally educating them to make a good contribution. We are also seeing a commensurate increase in poverty and the income gap.
The shared society is an interesting concept, but I suspect it will go the same way as the big society. As the international order meets in Davos, I hope it will think about how we can reinvent our business management to rebalance value across the four themes I described. We need to look at public service design and a sharing society more precisely and, most importantly, give the majority of people a sense of efficacy over the decisions that affect them; and we need to rebuild trust, which is right at the heart of the crisis we are talking about today.
My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Knight of Weymouth. I suppose we are very nearly West Country neighbours. History is very clear. There has never been a successfully sustained Government, a prosperous age or an age of peace that was not founded on liberal values. If we part company with those values, what inevitably follows is conflict, division and tyranny. I am particularly struck by the comparison between our age and the 1930s. Then, following a recession and a failure in politics, there was a massive collapse in confidence in the political system and the establishment. Then too, people wondered whether democracy was failing and hungered for the government of strong men. Then too, multilateralism gave way to unilateralism and, indeed, to a surge in nationalism. Then too, as we remember, free trade withered away and protectionism was on the rise. It was also an age when vulgarity always succeeded over decency and when the ugly voices were heard, listened to and followed far more than the quiet voice of reason. It was an age when many of us found it convenient to blame the ills that we were suffering from on the stranger in our midst or the foreigner over the border.
Then as well, politicians could not resist the temptation of the extravagant lie, which it was so much more easy to win support with than the carefully nuanced truth. Your Lordships will recall that the motto of age was, “If you’re going to lie, lie big and lie often”—stick it on the side of a bus, perhaps, and send it round the country. Our age bears horrible comparisons with that. I do not say we are not to blame—as the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, said, we are—nor do I say that this is not a rational reaction to those failures. I am interested not in who is to blame but in what to do.
One other feature of our age that compares to that one is that the people of the moderate, decent centre were fractured, broken and scattered. They never got their act together, and that gave dominance and the capacity to win to those who depended on that dangerous populism. What about those people in the middle? Hilaire Belloc had it wonderfully when he said:
“The people in between
Looked underdone and harassed,
And out of place and mean,
And horribly embarrassed”.
That is true today.
Spare a thought for a moment for the lost tribes of Labour and the Tory party. What do you do these days if you are part of that great Tory tradition of internationalism and now find yourself in a party that has completely abandoned it? What do you do if you are one of those Labour Members of Parliament who believes in the free market—not as our master but as our servant—and finds your party has explicitly rejected it? It is extraordinary in the last year how much politics has spun away to the extremes. The Conservative Party, albeit with a politer face, now adopts a position which is indistinguishable from that of UKIP. Labour has abandoned, for the first time in its history, any attempt to occupy the moderate centre ground, in favour of what I would regard as unreconstructed 1950s-style hard socialism—the official party, if not all its members.
What are you to do if you belong with those who are left out? What are you to do if you are among those hundreds of thousands in our country who are of the moderate centre and who are as frightened and concerned as we are but do not wish to make that concern felt through a political party? The Brexit campaign, and Trump’s campaign too, gave voice to the voiceless, the disposed and the left out. But they are now well represented. Currently voiceless, left-out and unrepresented is that moderate centre—those moderate, decent people who believe in those broadly liberal values. They are the voiceless ones of our present age.
Here is a thought to finish with. I have been struck in particular that what has changed our politics these last two frightening years has not been political parties but those operating outside the political circle. It is people’s movements that have changed the destinies of countries, colonised political parties or invented new ones, and elected presidents. But why do all the people’s movements have to be about the nasty, ugly things? What about a people’s movement that will at last give voice to the moderate, decent, liberal centre in our country—which is not confined to the Liberal Democrats? We are growing and strong, and happy about that, but what about those who are beyond us? Although 2016 frightened us all with the dreadful things that happened and the rise of destructive populism, could 2017 be the year when we might at last give that moderate, centrist voice, which is so voiceless, a place to be able to change the direction of our country and a role in doing so? In so far as we in the political parties share that view, and in so far as we too are frightened about what is happening, then this is a time for us to get out of our tribes and start working together to ensure that we can help build that centrist, moderate, liberal consensus, in which the only chance lies for altering the very dangerous trajectory of our country.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, for introducing this very important debate. I am not a professional politician, but I invite the House to look at the challenge and at the issues behind the case framed, very articulately, by the noble Lord.
First, I want to argue that populism is not a movement but a moment. One of the writers in the briefing for today talked about a thin ideology. It is not a detailed movement, as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, said; it is a moment. Nietzsche, in the aptly named The Birth of Tragedy, talked about psychological bonding creating a headless movement—it is an expression of feeling, concern or anger, but it is headless. It is like a mood in the background and is really difficult to deal with. Just like President-elect Trump’s tweeting, it is technological chatter, but very difficult to deal with. It is a mood and not a movement. Those of us charged with a political task therefore have quite a challenge to know what we are getting hold of and how to react.
With the liberal order, there is the same issue. Although many well-organised and well-off people have benefited, the fact is that many people not only lack freedom but are now articulating the fact that they feel unfree in a so-called liberal world. Nationalism, again, is a very tricky term. Behind nationalism, when you talk about Brexit, is a whole mix of contradictory things. I want to step a little further back than the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, and the 1930s and invite your Lordships to consider some wisdom from Thomas Hobbes. That is partly because he spent a lot of time in Derbyshire and is buried in a church that I go to, but Hobbes can help us see what the issues are, and therefore something of the challenge.
As your Lordships know, Hobbes began by saying people are essentially disunited—perhaps this is the threat element that was just mentioned. The task is to create what he called a covenant: a sense of people joining together under a sovereign. Our sovereign today is parliamentary democracy, or a liberal order. It is not just an intellectual statement that is worked out and agreed, since people will not agree the details, but a kind of psychological bond: a spiritual connection or a sense of being under the same rule of law and the same kind of frame within which life can be lived.
However, as well as recognising that we start disunited but can be assembled in a covenant, Hobbes challenges us, teaching us that once people are in a covenant, that unity will inevitably dissolve and they will go back to being different. The mistake of much of politics, it seems to me, is to assume that once people are in a covenant they have an intellectually agreed position and will just keep negotiating. Most people are not much interested in politics, except for the occasional moment when, psychologically, they bond together to shout out what might turn out to be a cry for help. I suggest that populism or nationalism is being expressed—noble Lords have given examples—through cries for help. The noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, just pointed to a way in which politicians, perhaps especially, have a responsibility to respond to that cry for help. In my language, it is a spiritual cry, a desire to be connected in a society and in communities and not to feel excluded, unfree and unrewarded.
We have to be very careful not to engage with populism and nationalism too seriously in terms of the thick ideology, because in Nietzsche’s terms, they are rather headless moments. But they are signals to those of us who are guardians of the kind of covenant that can hold people together and give us a sense of belonging and working together. Our challenge is to hear the cry and to look at what the covenant is, what kind of state it is in and how we can re-present it in a way that can bond people again and give them a sense of a common life in a common place for a common purpose.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, for calling this debate. It is impossible to do justice to this hugely important topic in five minutes so I am going to focus on just one aspect of it, the development of populism, and ask where this threat has come from and why. If we can answer the question of why, we can go some way towards taking the steps to address the issue.
If we look up a definition of populism we will find it defined as,
“support for the concerns of ordinary people”,
“the quality of appealing to, or being aimed at, ordinary people”.
Supporting and addressing the concerns of ordinary people surely has to be the desire and responsibility of every politician and leader, yet when we see the rise of populism around us we should ask ourselves how effective we have been.
Across Europe, populist parties’ average share of the vote in national and European parliamentary elections has more than doubled since the 1960s, from around 5% to 13%, at the expense of centre parties. Since the 1960s populist parties’ share of seats has tripled, from nearly 4% to nearly 13%. In most recent polling, Marine Le Pen’s Front National party is at 26.5%, a lead of 1.5% over former Prime Minister Fillon.
Ordinary people are voting for and identifying with parties that are communicating in a way that taps into their major concerns, enabling them to feel as though they have been heard. This is a challenge to us as mainstream parties and to the liberal international order. Why are we not meeting that need? In a joint piece of work undertaken recently by the Legatum Institute and the Centre for Social Justice—I refer to my entry in the Members’ register of interests—called 48:52 Healing a Divided Nation, we looked at what some identify as populism and at what motivated some of the 52% to vote the way they did in the Brexit vote. The story of 48:52 is not just a story of the rise of populism. The decision to leave the European Union was a bold and unequivocal statement for millions of people who wanted to change the political, social and economic status quo. It was a moment in time for them, a rational choice, when those who had not felt heard by the establishment expressed their desire to take back control—control of their wages and of their public services.
As we have sought to research and analyse the underlying issues, a number of well-known themes have emerged, such as concern about immigration, a desire for sovereignty and a sense of community alienation. However, there are also some more deeply embedded themes. Whole swathes of British society are concerned about: their wages and their job security—the impact of globalisation and technological changes to the nature of employment itself; the security of their home and access to housing; and pressure on public services, particularly education and health. This is the deeper malaise that the Prime Minister identified when she made her speech on the doorstep of No.10, and which she has kept referring to ever since. In my view, these are some of the deep social issues that lie at the heart of the rise of populism. In light of this, it is perhaps no surprise that the vote disregarded the dire warnings of the establishment, including the then Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Bank of England, the World Bank, the IMF and President Obama. Their threats and warnings showed that the establishment understood little of the lives of the 52%.
There is one other factor at play here in the rise of populism. When those who feel that the establishment does not understand their concerns look for leadership to our great institutions, we need to be aware of what they have seen. Instead of seeing a leadership that is there to take responsibility and to serve, they have looked at the finance sector and seen the banking crisis; looked at the media and seen the hacking scandal; looked at politicians and seen the expenses scandal; and even looked at top sports men and women and seen the doping and bribery scandals. There is a challenge to the liberal order, but it is one that should lead us to address the social issues that have been highlighted by the rise of populism and to ensure that the historic institutions of this nation are led with integrity for the benefit of the many, not just the few.
My Lords, I happily confess to being an expert on nothing. I guess that gives me the right to speak today.
We live in an age of unanticipated shocks. No leading economist foresaw the coming of the world financial crisis; Alan Greenspan famously went from hero to zero overnight. Few commentators gave Donald Trump much chance of getting the Republican nomination, let alone becoming President of the United States. Everyone suddenly becomes wise after the event, and then there is a kind of media-driven rush to judgment. Thus the surge of populism has been widely explained in terms of a divide between the winners and losers of globalisation. However, things are much more complex than that. I shall argue that populism in our age, of both the left and the right, is as much a creature of globalisation as it is a reaction to it.
It is a great mistake to equate globalisation, as so many do, solely with economic ties and free trade. The Prime Minister, in a speech given moments ago, used “globalisation” in precisely that way, as indeed everyone seems to, but it is not correct. Globalisation is about accelerating interdependence in all its forms. The world today is massively more interconnected than in any other era, and in a host of different ways. This is new territory for us all. The opportunities are huge but so are the risks. Climate change and the ravaging of the world’s ecosystems, for example, are just as much features of globalisation as is the spread of free markets.
The origins of the “populist explosion”, as one book calls it, are several. I will be academic about it and mention four of them here. The first, as the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, mentioned, is the continuing dislocation produced by the financial crisis, a crisis that remains unresolved in the industrial countries. Ordinary citizens have had to pick up the costs of the miscreant behaviour of financial speculators who have largely escaped unscathed. The result has been cutbacks in health services, welfare and many other areas in virtually all the industrial countries.
The second is a revolt of the dispossessed, or those who feel themselves to be so. However, this is not only about a white working class left behind by deindustrialisation, and its roots are not only economic. It includes a disproportionately large number of older people, for example. Worries about immigration are to some extent a code for wider feelings of cultural alienation in a time of endless change. I recommend to all noble Lords a book by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild called Strangers in Their Own Land, which applies to many people in this country who feel left behind, not economically but by the pace of change all around them, and who look for a national identity as a result. She also talks of “stay-at-home migrants”, people who are stuck but still feel outdistanced by change.
Thirdly, and crucial to it all, is the impact of the digital revolution. Its imprint is everywhere. Most populist parties are heavily organised online, yet the list goes on: “post-truth politics”, echo chambers, President Putin’s cyberwars, Mrs Clinton’s emails and Mr Trump’s tweets. The return to tradition that drives many forms of populism is certainly not tradition in its traditional form.
The fourth is sheer contingency—what you might call, “Events, dear boy, events”—which is so important both in everyday life and world history. Some 300,000 out of 139 million voters in a couple of key states settled the result of the presidential election in the US. However, once such an outcome is achieved, the world looks, and is, very different. President-elect Trump is, if I can put it this way, a complex personality whose political views have, one could say, evolved over the years. He used to be a Democrat, for example. His proposed rolling back of the US from the world stage would seem to be a lot more than purely economic. It looks like a wholesale retreat—this touches on what the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, said—from cosmopolitan values, rights of equality and protection for the poor. Not least important, Mr Trump will promote the fossil fuel companies and says that he will scupper the Paris accords. President Xi comes to Davos and gives a speech that Hillary Clinton might have given if she had won. Can one superpower replace another, so far as global government is concerned; or, as the new Administration seem to want, can they run the world in collusion with Russia? I doubt that very much. Global governance risks being undermined at the very time we need it most and in ways stretching far beyond free trade.
My Lords, there is a newspaper headline today, “Don’t mention the war”. I will do precisely that, because I lived through it. Although I was very small and did not understand its full implications, and lived in a rural community in north Wales, I still remember the thrum of bombers going over from Germany to bomb Liverpool, and I remember the aftermath of the war and the determination there was everywhere that war should not occur again.
What attracted me to the Liberal Party was Jo Grimond’s book The Liberal Future, and his emphasis on the importance of strengthening international institutions and supporting international law and the United Nations, which campaigned against aggressive wars and instituted a global fight against disease and poverty that recognised human rights. Those were messages that appealed to me as a young man. I had looked at Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales, and, as, as I mentioned earlier this week, I voted for the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, when he was a Plaid Cymru candidate in my hometown, but I quickly discovered that Plaid Cymru, as a nationalist party, was defined and defined itself by its enemy. It was not a set of values or policies: the enemy was Westminster.
The day before yesterday, when Plaid Cymru, in the National Assembly in Cardiff, considered the Wales Bill and the referred powers model under the Bill—its powers over taxation, its increased borrowing powers—the reaction of its leader was to say: “We are of the view that the very basis of the Bill is flawed. We blame the flaws in the Bill clearly on Westminster and Whitehall. We do not want to accept crumbs from the table of Westminster”. You will see nationalism, whether it is in Scotland or Wales, defined by its opposition to Westminster rather than anything else.
The enemy for UKIP and the right-wing of the Tory Party is Brussels. What is often said is the problem with Brussels is red tape—regulation imposing standards on us we do not want as a nation. What are those standards about? Generally, they cover workers’ rights, environmental controls, food standards, and matters of that sort. The nationalists in this country in UKIP and elsewhere seem to think that these are imposed on us, a yoke that we have to bear. They also oppose the European Court of Human Rights. What a great concept it was for those who devised the European convention: those who thought that, in a war-torn Europe, it will be a good idea to have a common set of principles—such as the belief in the rule of law, respect for life, the prohibition of torture, respect for family life, and a common standard of justice—and that those principles should be supported in the European Court of Human Rights.
Yet those of the right wing—of UKIP and others—say that this is all wrong: that we as British people should withdraw within our own boundaries and create our own standards, as though our standards should be different from those that appertain in Europe. The European Court of Justice, another institution which creates common law across Europe, is also attacked in the same way.
Populism—the real people against the elite—is headless, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby said a moment ago. Being headless, it is open to demagogues. We have seen that populism is taken over by those who do not feel that they are real people themselves, in the sense that they use that expression. They do not come from the poorer parts of our community. These are people with wealth, and so on. They show contempt for experts and promote extravagant lies—as my noble friend Lord Ashdown put it—which is so against the interests of everybody in this country.
We have to fight for liberal values. We have to maintain them in the face of all the current problems and perils. I share the pessimism of the noble Lord, Lord Knight, about where we are at present.
My Lords, it is hard to credit that anyone who follows international affairs can now be in doubt that the rules-based international order, so painstakingly built up over the 70 years since the disasters of two world wars, is currently under greater challenge than it has ever been; or that the response so far of countries such as ours, which has done so much to contribute to that rules-based order, and which still regarded its maintenance as a national interest—look at last year’s security review—has been quite inadequate in the face of those challenges. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, has done us a favour by bringing this matter forward for debate today, although effective collective action to those challenges is needed, not just debate.
Why is this situation so serious? I suggest it is because the challenges reach across such a wide area, encompassing peace and security, human rights, trade policy and climate change, to mention a few. Because the political will to face up to these challenges still seems to be ebbing rather than strengthening. The horrors of the siege of Aleppo, which is merely the most recent event in the abject failure of the international community to exercise its responsibility to protect the Syrian people, is fresh in all our minds, but the actions of President Putin to overturn the post-Cold War European order by seizing Crimea and destabilising Ukraine, are still open wounds. The trampling by Islamic State of every one of the rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is an appalling reminder that those rights are not secure. Add to that the challenge of trade protectionism, which did so much in the 1930s to create the conditions for a global disaster, and the threat from nuclear proliferation, only temporarily held in check by the P5 plus one’s agreement with Iran.
That is a daunting yet incomplete list. What can be done to reverse those damaging trends? I suggest that there are four traps that we need to avoid. The first is to attribute all the damage being done to the rules-based international system to the surge in support for protest movements. That surge certainly makes finding solutions more difficult and could, if left to grow unchecked, make our predicament even worse. But we must not dismiss these large protest votes in this country and in the US last year, and perhaps elsewhere in Europe within months, as simply aberrant reactions that can be ignored. As the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, said, populism is as much a symptom as it is a cause. Where we can find some policy responses to the root causes of those negative protest reactions, we will really need to deploy them.
The second trap is to believe that we are engaged in some titanic struggle between nation states and multilateral organisations. The nation state is not under threat, nor is it the root of all evil, nor is it about to disappear. It is in fact an essential building block for that international co-operation which is required if we are to handle successfully all those policy areas where action by individual states is no longer adequate to the task.
The third trap is to do nothing apart from wringing our hands. Intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan may have been the misguided or inadequate but non-intervention is a policy choice too, fraught with consequences, as we have seen in Syria. Allowing world trade liberalisation, which has brought so many millions of people out of poverty in recent years, to founder in tit-for-tat retaliation would simply lead to impoverishment and destabilisation, as it did in the 1930s.
The fourth trap is to believe in all that loose talk about living in a post-truth world. We may indeed live in a world where it is easier than before to plant plain lies on the public consciousness, but we do not live in a post-reality world, so sooner rather than later we will find current trends, if unchecked, leading to real, serious damage to our prosperity and security.
If we are to avoid these traps, we will certainly need to make a better job than we have done in the past of setting out a compelling case for the benefits of a rules-based international order. That case will need to cover the whole range of our international commitments and obligations in the UN, NATO and the World Trade Organization. It will require making common cause with other like-minded countries—often our former partners in the European Union. Where will the United States stand in all this? That is not a question that can or should be answered with confidence one day before President Trump is inaugurated. But neither systematic compliance with US policies nor systematic opposition to them would seem a sensible approach. That means we—and, above all, our Government—will face some difficult choices in the months and years ahead.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, for calling this important debate on the challenges posed to the liberal international order. I should say from the outset that I am a firm believer in that order and in a rules-based international system; indeed, I am here today because of it. My father defected from communist Czechoslovakia. He arrived in the liberal West as a refugee and went on to gain a place at Princeton University and become a professor at IMD, the international Swiss business school. It is something that I have never forgotten and for which my family will always be indebted and grateful.
No one on these Benches is likely to defend demagoguery or so-called post-truth politics. Yet it is all too easy to be lofty about populism. We should remember that none of us was elected to this Chamber by popular vote. Indeed, many of us, myself included, have never been elected by popular vote. We need to be especially careful that we avoid even a scintilla of condescension or disdain for the concerns of normal people. Most people are not prone to intolerance or prejudice and we should always challenge the demonisation of minority groups both at home and abroad.
It is too simple, however, to dismiss a politician seeking to address legitimate popular concerns as a populist. It is precisely that undertone of incomprehension, merging sometimes into contempt, that is causing damage to politics right across the West. Take, for example, Italy. Last month Matteo Renzi’s failure to secure approval for a series of complex constitutional changes was widely attributed to populism, yet many Italians had substantive and legitimate concerns about the proposals themselves. Some feared, ironically, that the very same populist politicians opposing the changes could benefit from them in the future. They worried that the proposed weakening of the upper House would give politicians such as the Five Star Movement a greater ability to change the country for the worse if they were to gain control of the lower House. Those people therefore voted alongside the Five Star Movement against the proposed changes. A vote dismissed as populist was for many the exact opposite.
There were others in the Italian referendum who may have chosen to vote with the Five Star Movement because they felt it understood, better than other politicians, Italy’s contemporary problems. Italy has suffered two lost decades of growth and the danger to Italian politics has been the failure by mainstream politicians seriously to address this. All of us who are truly democrats must remember the importance for politicians of understanding the reasonable concerns of the electorate.
The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, asks us to take note of the challenges posed by nationalism as well as populism. Here, too, we must be cautious. As I said at the beginning, I believe passionately in an international order, and that order ought to be just that: international. A system of nation states, freely trading with one another under the rule of law, remains the most effective way of protecting personal rights and enriching peoples. It must surely be legitimate for those nation states to defend their own borders and define their own national narrative.
I do not believe that the damage to western politics is inevitable or irreversible. I thought the Prime Minister was right in her speech at Davos to talk about the need to respond to those who feel left behind by globalisation. She was right to address it and right to resist the siren calls to slow or reverse the open movement of talent, trade and investment that, for me, is an indispensable part of the liberal international order. At our best, this has always been the British way and I believe it will continue to be so.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, suggests, across the democratic world our societies are increasingly divided, and trust in our elected representatives is alarmingly low. What is worse is that many politicians and people in the media revel in this divisiveness. Their very livelihoods depend on it and for this, cynically, they add fuel to the fire.
As long as we continue to play the same game of democracy as we know it, things will go from bad to worse. It is a system failure and it creates democratically elected authoritarians and dysfunctional coalitions. Yes, people are disillusioned. They feel that their voice no longer counts. Politics has become deeply polarised. The strong centre has evaporated. Both sides now tout their own version of us versus them; the left is often misperceived as anti-business, the right as xenophobic.
We are at serious risk of becoming a closed society, unable to embrace diversity, unable to demonstrate compassion and tolerance for difference and likely to increase exclusion. The deep divisions that we have created may lead to even greater marginalisation. Those who felt left behind before are now likely to experience an even worse version of exclusion, insularity and ethnocentricity than they ever felt.
However, there is good news. Noble Lords will know that I do not like to bemoan a situation, however bad and complex, without being able to come up with a practical solution—and here it is. New thinking has been emerging in places such as Iceland, Finland, Argentina, the Netherlands, and also here in the UK. New technologies across myriad different sectors have now made it possible for very large groups of people to interact and collaborate with each other and come up with better answers.
This phenomenon, described by Professor Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum in his book The Fourth Industrial Revolution, is a fusion of technologies that are blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres. It is the current trend of automation and data exchange technologies and it includes cyberphysical systems, the internet of things and cloud computing. With it, we could create a better future system with a new political platform that actually establishes Abraham Lincoln’s ideal of,
“government of the people, for the people and by the people”.
Business, and particularly in my own field—retail—has already grasped this and is flourishing in the new milieu online and seeing the old forms of shopping in retreat. This technology, and making use of big data, are based on the notion that none of us is as smart as all of us. The crowd can be wiser and make much better decisions than any single representative or group of elected officials.
A new form of governance based on the use of this technology has been termed “crowdocracy”. It needs to be properly managed, to guide how the crowd functions, and this could be our role. Some traditionalists are frightened that this could lead to tyranny. Yes, get the conditions wrong and the crowd nearly always dumbs down and then makes some very poor choices. This should not put us off—it should spur us to modernise more speedily and expertly and use this new technology.
Politicians, unlike business, have failed to grasp the enormity of the benefit of this fourth industrial revolution. If we use this technology correctly and access diversity of knowledge and opinion, ensuring that people are in possession of accurate information, we would foster independence of thought and collaboration, decentralise power, and integrate the collective input into coherent crowd-sourced solutions. We could harness the wisdom of the crowd for the good of the many, not just the few. In this way we would stop privileging a small section of society and marginalising others; we would stop making things worse by creating divisive 48%:52% splits, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, mentioned; and instead we would develop the ability to make wise decisions that are in the best interests of all of us, regardless of political persuasion, and not just some.
This is not a fanciful utopia. I have already witnessed and been involved in testing this approach here in the UK, and there are strong indications that it is working. We could lead the world in the modernisation of democracy. We have a historic opportunity to transform ourselves from cynical and suspicious spectators and to all become genuine participants and actors in the governance of our community and of society at large.
I have placed in the Library several copies of the book Crowdocracy, written on this phenomenon by Dr Alan Watkins and Iman Stratenus. It is an interesting and enlightening read and would enable noble Lords to appreciate the potential of this idea. It will require genuine, thoughtful leadership, deep compassion and real courage to test, but together we could modernise our democracy and build a new form of governance for the greater good of all of us. Perhaps the Minister and those interested would be willing to meet experts in this field to examine the possibilities for tackling the challenges signalled by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, in bringing this debate to your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to have a debate like this, which allows us to identify some of the more philosophical dynamics at play in contemporary political developments. The excellent Library note for this debate makes it clear that language matters, and that definition of terms is not incidental. Populism is clearly more than a movement of people who listen only to the facts that support the prejudices that they have already nurtured, but it can exploit assertive language in such a way as to obscure truth. This is what I wish to focus on here. Whereas others will discuss the importance of a rules-based international order, I want to say something about language in a post-truth or post-factual world, and pose a couple of questions about the assumptions we make regarding history.
The United Kingdom, as illustrated by the unfortunate reference of the Foreign Secretary yesterday, has defined itself by its share in the defeat of fascism in the 20th century. But have we moved on? If we assume that our domestic order has been defined for ever by a past victory, we should not be surprised when our complacency finds itself undermined by events that are not trapped in that same narrative. Democracy and the rule of law are not natural and immutable givens, but are goals for which we must struggle in each generation. This is why the narratives that guide our self-understanding as a nation among nations on a very small planet in a very large universe matter so much. It is why the UK seeing itself through the lens of a long-gone empire is so facile. It is why seeing Germany simply through the lens of Adolf Hitler is ridiculous. It is why illusions of power are dangerous when they shape language and rhetoric that are heard differently by other audiences. We need new narratives for the contemporary world—narratives of hope rooted in an authentic anthropology that takes seriously the destructive elements of human nature, or what used to be known as “sin”.
Western liberalism has become complacent about its own self-evident superiority. It is arguable that the proper balance between individual rights and concerns for the common good has not been established. I would argue that this complacency has contributed to the sense of alienation and detachment being seen in what is being called political populism. Progress is not inevitable; it is not true that things can only get better; human rights cannot be assumed to be self-evidently right. Battles for peace, order and social cohesion are not won once and for ever. The tendency to entropy is powerful and finds it easier to pull down rather than build up.
The sorts of populism we see now are destructive precisely because they evidently collude in destruction without a compelling vision for what should be constructed. Hence, we have seen a referendum campaign fuelled by lies, misrepresentation and an easy readiness to abuse language. Who are the elites—especially when they are being condemned or ridiculed by public school and Oxbridge-educated journalist-politicians who command six-figure incomes above and beyond their basic salary, and who will, whatever the outcome of Brexit, not suffer greatly? Why does it not matter that promises can be made in a referendum campaign that simply get dismissed within hours of that campaign ending? Can liberal order survive the corruption of language and the reduction of truth or fact to mere political convenience or expediency? It is not a game.
Tomorrow sees the inauguration of a US President for whom truth is a commodity to be traded. Direct contradiction of what is proven fact is loudly asserted without shame or embarrassment. I make no comment or judgment about his ability to govern the United States or contribute intelligently and wisely to the establishment of a just international order; I simply observe that the corruption of language and truth is in itself dangerous for everyone.
This debate is about the challenges to the liberal international order posed by the development of populism and nationalism around the world. The liberal international order is not a natural given or an inevitable right. It begs as many questions of inherent legitimacy, for example, as it addresses. Populism and nationalism are not new phenomena, and their development is a constant in societies that feel uncertain or have lost the security found in a clear sense of common or mutual identity. The particular danger of today’s developments around the world is that instability is far easier to create than stability; that order is fragile and chaos a tempting attraction; that the spectre haunting Europe and the world has little to do with “what the people—whoever they are—want” and much to do with how they can be manipulated into thinking that what they are told they want is in fact what is good for them. The anti-elitist anti-establishmentarians are perpetrating a fraud in their elitist and self-promoting rhetorics. But they will not be the people to pay the price.
I suspect that the order of the past is being challenged by the threat or promise of a new order. It is essential that we articulate a compelling vision for an order that serves the common good, shapes a good society and resists the claims of a post-truth rhetoric which tells us that lying is acceptable as a means to an end.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, on introducing this most timely debate. In industrialised societies, we are seeing the rise of political movements that are challenging liberal values and the consensus that has existed for decades. Two major countries continue single-mindedly to expand their interests—namely, Russia and China—which unnerves their neighbours. In some countries, religion is being used to further sustain the control and popularity of governing regimes. At the WEF meeting this week in Davos, it is precisely these themes which are sources of discussion and concern. The rise of nationalism and protectionism challenge existing multilateral co-operation and institutions, which is particularly difficult for countries which have led enhanced international co-operation and agreement.
I say this because, however critical and concerned we may be about these themes, it seems to me that we need to delve into some of the actual reasons for this in Europe and the United States in particular. After the Second World War, a remarkable level of social cohesion developed in many western societies. In the United States, manufacturing grew apace and living standards improved markedly across economic divides, irrespective of education or skills levels. In areas described today as the rust belt, there were jobs for all. In France, there is now nostalgia for the 30 glorious years of economic and social advance in the same period. Despite frequent industrial disturbances here, a former Prime Minister said that we had,
“never had it so good”.
I believe that much of this sense of alienation today arises from the embers of the financial crash of 2008. Some Governments had concluded that, in the prosperous preceding years, fiscal caution could be de-emphasised or even abandoned. With the resulting high budgetary deficits, traditional Keynesian responses to the crash were extremely difficult to pursue. Instead, central banks pursued a policy of very low interest rates; this in turn led to high asset inflation, the beneficiaries being those who could borrow money and participate often in property booms. Many citizens felt that those in the financial sector who had recklessly contributed to the financial crash escaped any real censure. Technology changes added to the concerns of those who felt separated from economic recovery, particularly in the United States, so that the very underpinnings of social cohesion began to fracture. High-end pay became in some instances wholly disconnected from successful performance. All this made for a combustible cocktail.
Institutional structures further aggravated this. If we look at Europe, at Laeken there was a serious discussion about how European citizens could feel a greater sense of ownership of the European Union and its institutions. In what would eventually emerge, even the most enthusiastic Europhile would accept that the promised sense of ownership was simply never restored. For example, no transitional arrangements were made here for citizens of the new accession countries and the assurances given were that the numbers coming here would be minimal. I happen to have supported the remain cause in the referendum last year but now, all over Europe, there is anxiety about the consequences of globalisation in practice, unrestricted free movement of labour, migratory flows that are in part simply economic, and human rights legislation that can overturn national responses. Much of the manifestation of the resulting populism and nationalism challenges the very democratic values that we all cherish, but we need to take care that the legal and institutional structures that we have constructed to enshrine these long-fought-for values do not in themselves appear inflexible, unresponsive or intolerant of people’s genuine concerns. The remain campaign focused on the economy—usually the basis for electoral success—but this was rejected by people feeling that their identity was being challenged by forces over which they had no control.
If we look down the track at the effect of artificial intelligence, for example, this will further challenge populism, because populism offers a false hope. The change of technology is likely to disappoint those who have supported it. We look at what is happening in France with Marine Le Pen offering protectionism as a solution to high French unemployment—a similar situation is being echoed in the United States. Mercifully, we do not have extreme left or right-wing political movements in this country. We remain a remarkably liberal and open society, but we have to guard against the undermining of this. To do so, we must not permit those liberal values to morph into illiberality, which is to turn a blind eye to negative social attitudes and practices while intolerantly closing down debate and open discussion that impacts the lives of our citizens, leading to their alienation. We in this country are fortunate to be able to resist protectionism and illiberalism. It is part of our role in this Chamber to ensure that those values are continued and cherished.
My Lords, we all unite against the excesses of populism and nationalism, but there are some positive features in both. Populism in particular is a “boo” word, but does it have to be? Some claim that liberal elites use the word to devalue the views of the majority—examples are of course the response to the victories of Trump and Brexit. I ask myself: if I were an unemployed car worker in Detroit and heard, or thought I heard, myself described by Mrs Clinton as a “deplorable”, how would I respond to that? Would I not seek an opportunity to kick back in anger and take back control?
Clearly, power should be shared more equitably, and colleagues have set out the problems. I noticed in yesterday’s Financial Times that Martin Wolf wrote:
“Those who did well out of globalisation … paid … little attention to those who did not”.
That is a challenge for us all and, as I look at the Bishops’ Bench, I think of the other aspect of the “preferential option for the poor”.
Clearly, every politician has to listen—to some extent even dictators, even if they respond with bread and circuses—but there are dangers in this populism. In his Democracy in America, de Tocqueville described the “tyranny of the majority”, with waves of popular emotion preventing consistent policies—a danger now facilitated by social media. JL Talmon, in The Origins of Totalitarian Democracy, charted how the concept of the general will morphed into democratic centralism, Stalinism and, perhaps now alas, into Putinism.
Obviously, populism is a serious challenge to traditional forms of governance. It is relatively easy to describe but very difficult to counter. Today’s manifestations in our continent are seen most in central and eastern Europe and extend eastwards to the Turkey of Erdogan. In Hungary, Prime Minister Orbán aims to create what he calls an “illiberal democracy”, and anything his party Fidesz can do, Poland’s Law and Justice Party can do as well. A populist almost won the Austrian presidential election. In 2017, there will be a series of elections in the Netherlands, Germany and France; clearly, the populists will do well, but they will be excluded from any resulting coalitions, which will increase their sense of alienation and that there is an establishment conspiracy against them. There appears everywhere to be a search for identity, a sense that the fault lies with the system, and a search for scapegoats—particularly immigrants, the alien in our midst.
How can we counter the adverse effects of populism? This question was tackled in the Global Risks Report 2017, published last month by the World Economic Forum. It highlighted the struggle against disinformation in social networks and the need to invent a new inclusive globalisation. On 6 January, Le Monde, in a very French way, asked the views of six intellectuals. Most concentrated on immigration, but Professor Tony Travers stressed that politicians should be honest with their electorates and refrain from raising false expectations. Tackling the phenomenon of populism needs some institutional means, such as the rule of law and empowerment of civil society, but there could be a Maginot line complex unless one also recognises that underlining this must be a prevailing spirit of democracy.
Finally, perhaps one of the lessons of Brexit is that we must confront what, alas, is the liberal illusion that reason will ultimately and necessarily prevail if the facts and evidence are placed before the citizens. This must now be seen in the context of Trump’s post-truth, for example, on climate change, and Gove’s “Put not your trust in experts”. Pascal had it right: “The heart”—or should I say the gut—“has its reasons, which reason does not understand”. The crowd has come to town and knows what it wants to hear, true or not.
However difficult, we need to prevent a triumph of unreason; if not, the enemies of liberal society will surely prevail. A good start would be to accept our personal failure and our responsibility to press for pragmatism and combat false claims. But elites must abandon any sense of moral superiority over their citizens. I repeat the ending of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, in his plea for fairness, inclusiveness, openness and tolerance.
My Lords, four decades ago when we joined what was then the European Economic Community, I was working for the BBC and was asked to script and present a life story of Jean Monnet—“the father of Europe”, as he was then called. I got to know him pretty well. I found him not to be an ideological man but a rather optimistic pragmatist. His consistent theme, however—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop will note this; it is rather like Hobbes—was that he believed deeply that it was not natural for men or nations to unite, and that it would happen only under enormous pressure of necessity. For him, the enormous pressure of necessity that he had experienced in his own lifetime were the two world wars. He drew on that experience to argue his case and he was in many ways very successful.
I have spent a good deal of time over the last two years working on a history of Winston Churchill in 1946, and in particular the two great speeches he made during that year after he had lost office and when he was quite seriously depressed. The first was at Fulton, Missouri—the so-called “Iron Curtain” speech—and, six months later in Zurich, the “Europe arise!” speech. In both cases, rather similar to the Monnet experience, he was driven by a sense that unity and a degree of interdependence were essential not just as a theoretical ideal but in order to deal with overwhelming necessity. In the Fulton speech, he argued that the huge Russian preponderance in Europe and the malign intentions of Joseph Stalin necessitated an unprecedented degree of unity between the United Kingdom, the British Commonwealth, as it then was, and the United States, and that this had to provide a deterrent to Soviet power. He was remarkably successful in that argument, although it was hugely controversial at the time and he was attacked by a great number of people in the United States, including the whole of the Roosevelt family.
Six months later he made the second speech in Zurich. Again, he was driven by this sense of necessity—that unity had to occur because the alternatives were so grim. In particular, faced with the destruction and exhaustion of Europe, he believed that France and Germany had to be reconciled and that those two countries had to take the lead in building what he called a kind of United States of Europe. That first speech in effect triggered a process which led to the Berlin airlift, and certainly greatly facilitated it, and eventually to NATO. The second one was enormously important in enabling the Americans to make the generous initiative of the Marshall Plan and, later on, Jean Monnet with the Coal and Steel Community.
I have said that both those speeches ignited fury and intense opposition—the second one particularly from General de Gaulle. But after decades the habit of interdependence has sort of taken hold. It has also been taken for granted—and this is the cause of its great vulnerability. For today, this habit of interdependence has been, and is being, challenged as we have not seen in decades. As many noble Lords have observed, tomorrow Donald Trump will become President Trump. His intention and direction are towards deals that will, and can, erode the post-war international liberal order—for example, a deal to be forced on Mexico to build a wall and perhaps a deal with Russia that could destabilise the Baltic and erode NATO’s credibility. Whatever Brexit means, it must mean Britain opting out of the project to unite Europe. It will fundamentally challenge the assumption and aspiration of ever-greater unity, breaking a habit and direction of interdependence.
So what can follow from all this? First, division between competing national interests. Two weeks ago, the New Yorker magazine defined very accurately and rather intellectually what Trumpism was all about. It stated that he is about,
“secure borders, economic nationalism, interests-based foreign policy”—
the elements that, taken together, can corrode and erode and eventually destroy a liberal international order.
The second thing that follows is suspicion, distrust and a growing belligerence of language—and language is important. You have only to look at Boris Johnson’s latest verbal folly to understand the perils of inadequate control over language. But it is not just Boris Johnson; we should look at the headlines which sought to encapsulate the Prime Minister’s speech on Tuesday. I shall read out a few of them. The Times stated:
“May to EU: give us a fair deal or you’ll be crushed”.
The Telegraph stated:
“No deal is better than a bad deal”.
The Daily Mirror stated:
“Give us a deal … or we’ll walk”.
The Daily Mail referred to,
“an ultimatum to Brussels”.
The Daily Express stated:
“Deal or no deal … ‘We will leave’”.
The headlines are, of course, more belligerent, and their tonality sharper, than the words used by the Prime Minister. She was much more careful and was feeling and calling for a degree of understanding. But I feel that we have had a warning from what has happened this week and we must take careful note of it.
The third thing that can follow, therefore, is illusion and miscalculation. Let us take just one key example—the outcome on transitional arrangements for the City. Mark Boleat, the policy chairman of the City of London Corporation, said last week that if Britain leaves the EU with no deal, it will still be possible for London to retain its centrality in financial services. He added:
“But this will not just happen. It will require political and business leadership on a scale we have not seen in this country”.
I remind the House that Winston Churchill said in 1946 that we needed to learn the “bitter dear-bought experience” of two world wars and not throw it away. We are in danger now of casting away these lessons of bitter dear-bought experience. If we do so, we will rue it.
My Lords, 2016 has not been kind to liberalism. Across the globe, populism and nationalism have taken the reins. In this regard I would like to cite a few examples. In the Philippines, we have a leader who endorses extrajudicial killings. In Myanmar, members of the Rohingya community who are Muslims have been subjected to brutal violence and many have been killed. In Hungary, we have a leader who sees the refugee crisis as nothing more than an opportunity to further his own popularity. There is now a right-wing populist Government in Poland.
In 2017, we will see further challenges from populism and nationalism. In the Dutch general election, the anti-immigrant party is leading the polls. Its leader, Geert Wilders, has openly said that he wants to ban the Holy Koran. In the French presidential election, Marine Le Pen is widely expected to be one of the two candidates to reach the final round of the election in May. She and her National Front party have put forward anti-immigration and anti-Islam policies.
Tomorrow will be the inauguration of the United States President. During the campaign, Donald Trump has undoubtedly prospered by inciting populist ideas. Unfortunately, he made some unsavoury remarks about the Muslims. Notwithstanding this, I am pleased to see that the President-elect has stepped back from the brash tone of the campaign trail. I hope that much of what he said was rhetoric and that he will not put it into practice.
As someone who strongly values our democracy, I believe in freedom of the press. We must, however, take more care. The news media has become increasingly fixated with attention-grabbing, outrageous headlines that sell at the expense of accurate reporting. It is commonplace for the news media to use descriptive terms such as “Islam” or “Muslims” when referring to criminals or any form of terrorism. Indeed, the regular association of Islam with crime and terror is a critical ingredient in spreading Islamophobia. Islam is a religion of peace. My religion forbids suicide bombings or acts of terrorism. It is written in the Holy Koran that,
“whoever kills a soul … it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one—it is as if he had saved mankind entirely”.
A person who commits an act of terrorism should be referred to as a terrorist without reference to his or her religion. In regard to criminal acts, certain sections of the media have associated sex grooming with Islam. Any crime of such a nature has nothing to do with Islam, which does not permit or encourage any such horrible acts, just as there is nothing in Christian values or indigenous British culture that would condone the abuses revealed in the Jimmy Savile or Rolf Harris scandals or other similar scandals.
Any xenophobia simply serves to validate populist prejudices. I am a patriotic British Muslim, and I am very proud of the fact that there are more than 1,500 mosques in this country, among other institutions of worship—a true testament to Britain’s openness, tolerance and acceptance. I am patron of five different organisations, both Muslim and non-Muslim, which promote interfaith dialogue, but I am no exception: 82% of British citizens socialise at least monthly with people from different ethnic or religious backgrounds. This is a record that Britain should be proud of.
Across the globe, populists will continue to gain traction by exploiting anxieties about cultural identities, and there will be great challenges this year to the liberal international order to come. However, the best bastion of populism and nationalism is not to pander to it but to offer a versatile and robust defence of ethnic diversity. I have no doubt that the British generosity of spirit and openness will persist through these turbulent times, and as a proud British Muslim, this is the message that I hope will be received in your Lordships’ House and elsewhere.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on his timing: tomorrow, under the populist President Trump, we will see American power renewed and reasserted, while this week the Davos elites are holding a wake at the death of their globalisation dream. I entirely support the rules-based international order as enunciated by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, but that is a million miles away from international liberalism, which I do not support.
Never have I more enjoyed reading the left-wing press—I read them all, every day—with its agonising articles, in the Independent, the Guardian, the New York Times, the Washington Post and the New Statesman, all complaining about the rise of populism. I have them all here. These articles are in four contradictory groups. First, there is absolute outrage that the right has commandeered populism, which has been, ought to be and is the sole preserve of the left; secondly, there is anguish that their enlightened socialism/liberalism has not been understood by the ignorant masses, such as white van man and redneck man; thirdly, populism must be completely denounced now that Brexit and Trump have won; and fourthly—but only in the Guardian, the Independent and the New Statesman—“How can we turn Jeremy Corbyn into a left-wing populist to capture the populist vote?”. I kid you not—I have the articles here.
Populism and populist leaders were to be applauded so long as they were all extreme left, such as Castro, Chavez, Fernandez de Kirchner and Evo Morales. However, as soon as the people in the US and England supported Trump and Brexit, the whole left, elitist, liberal establishment decided that populism is a bad thing and the very devil incarnate. In an article in the New Statesman entitled, “The Strange Death of Liberal Politics”, the left-wing writer John Gray writes:
“As it is being used today, ‘populism’ is a term of abuse applied by establishment thinkers to people whose lives they have not troubled to understand. A revolt of the masses is under way … the ordinary men and women at whom they like to sneer”.
International liberalism is easily identified by looking at its principal proponents, such as those regular Davos attenders, just denounced by the Prime Minister this morning. It says something about the Davos elite when the keynote speaker defending globalisation is that paragon of democratic and human rights—the President of China. It is people like Juncker, with his notorious saying,
“If it’s a Yes, we will say ‘On we go’, and if it’s a No, we will say ‘we continue’”,
or President Obama, interfering in our referendum vote telling us to vote yes, and then the preposterous John Kerry saying that Trump should not have commented on internal German politics. To paraphrase the late, great Willie Whitelaw, he wanders the world “stirring up apathy”.
Tomorrow, we will be rid of the most useless American President I have ever seen in my entire lifetime, whose only legacy is rhetoric. He has withdrawn America from the world stage and left a disastrous vacuum that has been filled by Putin and China. He withdrew troops prematurely from Iraq and allowed ISIL to flourish. He laid down “red lines” on the use of gas in Syria, but did nothing to enforce them when they were breached. He turned a blind eye to Russian hacking for seven years and nine months but suddenly became concerned about it after Hillary lost the election. But never mind, he has his place in history: the next time I visit the United States, I will be able to use the transgender toilets.
I quote President Obama because I consider him to be a perfect example of the liberal international order which is now being routed around the world. But among all the articles I have read in the last two months, crying about the death of international socialism, the odd bit of truth and self-awareness creeps in. Mr Timothy Garton Ash, writing in the Guardian on 13 October, says:
“Liberal internationalists have to own up: we left too many people behind”.
The BBC home affairs editor, writing on 23 December about his visit to Port Talbot, said that people,
“did not think anyone was listening to them. They felt powerless and ignored ... people all over Britain were desperate for a democratic system that gave them some semblance of control over their destiny, in a globalised and interconnected world where decisions often seem to be made by anonymous elites a long way away”.
I say to the noble Lord that there is no challenge to the current international order because I think that its time is over and it is finished.
No one can accuse the Labour Party of not being democratic. I would never dream of doing that, because it is democratic. The Independent of 20 December reported:
“The Labour Party is ‘ramping up’ preparations to relaunch Jeremy Corbyn as a left wing populist”.
It continues that senior party officials believe that his,
“unpolished authenticity could gather support from the same anti-establishment sentiment that has heralded the popularity of … Donald Trump and Nigel Farage”.
So there you have it: populism is a wicked and evil thing if it is a right-wing President Trump but a great thing if it is a socialist Corbyn. Nobody can do hypocrisy better than the left liberal elites.
My Lords, I too pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Bruce for setting down this debate and for opening it so effectively. There have been many thought-provoking contributions from noble Lords. In fact, they mostly seem to speak with one voice, and I expect that the Minister, upbeat though she no doubt will be, will share many of the concerns. That is at least something.
We are all acutely aware of the challenges facing us—the United Kingdom, Europe and the world. As a long-ago historian, I never subscribed to the notion that history was coming to a full stop in the late 1990s and that the liberal international order was duly spreading everywhere—a very ahistorical notion. Of course, the historians Trevelyan and Macaulay seemed to believe that history was just a story of progress, and you can see why: 19th-century improvements in living standards, more prosperity, more education and the franchise widening seemed to confirm that. For more people life was no longer nasty, brutal and short, at least in industrialising countries.
But then you have the 1930s and 1940s, with absolutely devastating destruction and appalling genocide. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds passionately pointed out, progress is not inevitable—a liberal internationalist order is not a given. The populist movements of the 1930s followed the terrible economic depression of the 1920s and 1930s, as my noble friend Lord Ashdown pointed out. Noble Lords will have to read his upcoming book to have that spelled out in greater detail.
So surely we should not be surprised that the banking crash of 2008-09 and the ensuing deep recession resulted in political and social shocks, especially as, as the noble Lords, Lord Tugendhat and Lord Risby, pointed out, those who were seen to be the cause were never held to account. If we see the rate and scale of change globally, we should not be surprised if social and political consequences result, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, pointed out.
However, there is clear agreement here that, whatever criticisms people may have of the UN, the EU or other international institutions, it has to be welcome that such transnational bodies were set up. The growth of international law—and international humanitarian law, in particular—since the Second World War and in reaction to it, as my noble friend Lord Thomas outlined, is surely to be hugely welcomed. Again, I agree with the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds that it is not a given that these should have developed. They are part of a liberal international order that is rules-based and global, and where there is an understanding of universal rights, freedoms and responsibilities. Here, we would generally agree that it matters to all of us that a civil war in Syria is causing immense suffering. That is why it is seen as a rebuff to that international understanding when Donald Trump describes those admitted by Germany not as refugees but as “illegals”.
The United Kingdom Government’s national security strategy of 2015 speaks of a “rules-based international order” which has,
“enabled economic integration and security cooperation to expand”.
The erosion of this, it argues, makes it,
“harder to build consensus and tackle global threats”.
That is clearly true.
There surely can be no doubt, as the noble Lord, Lord O’Neill of Gatley, rightly argues, that globalisation has brought great benefits. Half the world’s population has been pulled out of extreme poverty—the aim of the millennium development goals. The aim of the sustainable development goals is to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030 and to leave no one behind. That is precisely why our commitment to the 0.7% target for aid internationally is vital.
Most children are in education, fewer mothers die in childbirth, more people have access to sanitation and fewer die in hunger. All that is progress. But what is also clear is that there are huge inequalities between the rich and the poor. Those children who have been through school expect a better life but often cannot get jobs; global businesses are adept at moving from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, not paying taxes that contribute to the development of the countries in which they derive their income; and the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, perceptively speaks of the cultural alienation of endless change. But is this a reason to pull up the drawbridge and become little Englanders or little Americans? In this Chamber, we all, except perhaps for one, clearly believe not. We share the view that this is an argument for greater global co-operation while addressing these deep-seated changes, as argued by the noble Lords, Lord Hannay, Lord Giddens and Lord Anderson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud.
So where will our energies go? In the United Kingdom, we will be embroiled now for years in pulling out of the EU. We were always semi-detached, never recognising the EU for what it was—a project for peace, on a continent that has seen war in Bosnia, Northern Ireland and Cyprus in our very recent memory, not just the major wars of the 20th century, to which my noble friends Lord Thomas and Lord Watson referred. Strengthening economic ties made war less likely. Our press endlessly blamed the EU, and our politicians connived at that. No defence was made, and political leaders so often failed to take the leading role in Europe that our size and economy enabled. We were the triumvirate, with France and Germany—what a wasted opportunity.
It is therefore not surprising that people voted as they did. For me, what was amazing was the outpouring after the referendum from those who did get the EU, especially young people. Those who voted leave said overwhelmingly that they would not wish to take a financial hit from doing so, and of course they were told that they would not. If and when they do, what then for populism in the United Kingdom? The expectation would be that people would move further to the right or left. That is a very worrying prospect. With all our energies consumed by these protracted negotiations, how will we address that?
In the US, as Trump stands on the cusp of inauguration, what there? Trump is not consistent, except in being super-sensitive to slights and seeking immediate answers to long-standing problems. BMW will have a supertax on its cars if it makes them in Mexico, so how will Germany respond? What happens if US actions mean that Mexico’s economy implodes? Will the wall keep the Mexicans out? Forget Gove and Trump making a good and beneficial deal for the UK; it is more likely to be beneficial to the US—to its farmers, its businesses and its financial services. We would be negotiating from a place of weakness and smaller size. Even without Trump, the US has long had a tendency to protectionism. What of China, if the US decides on this road? What happens to its economy? Will the Chinese leadership sit by as protectionist policies are put in place? That is unlikely. How ironic to see the Chinese apparently taking the lead on an open global system.
There are so many challenges that need global co-operation; turning inwards cannot be an answer. Nationalism makes us less safe. We cannot hope to tackle global challenges alone, whether it is climate change, terrorism or the 60 million refugees worldwide—the scapegoats of the far right. The noble Baroness, Lady Finn, reminds us that we are not so far removed from those refugees. We weaken ourselves by pulling out of the EU, the biggest and strongest bloc in the world, in which we had disproportionate influence. There are already signs that we are desperately looking to the US, even at this moment in its history. But we are not equal partners, as we are in the EU. Read the Chilcot report on Iraq if you doubt that.
Our task has to be to get across that it is in the national interest to work together with other nations and, as my noble friend Lord Ashdown points out, with each other across this nation. Otherwise, nationalism and populism will take us into very dangerous and dark territory indeed. As my noble friend Lord Bruce rightly put it, we need to fight for a country, a region and a world where fairness, openness, inclusion and tolerance predominate.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord for initiating this debate. In thinking about the subject, I wondered exactly what direction the debate would go in. From what we have heard today, it has gone in all directions. That is the point about the subject we are dealing with and its associated language.
In considering the challenges posed by populism and nationalism, I want to emphasise, like both right reverend Prelates, that the ingredients of a thriving democracy are not limited to political parties. I say that because of the importance of civil society—I include the Church in that, and in particular trade unions—in our democratic life.
The noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, once said to me that politics in the second half of the 20th century can be summed up as liberal capitalism versus social democracy. The electorate voted for bits of each and Whitehall sorted out the how. That sums up our recent period of history.
Today we are faced with politics and societies which are radically different from those which existed at the beginning of the last century. Citizens today are substantially less likely to be a member of a political party than they were even three decades ago. While the Labour Party has the largest membership of any social democratic party in Europe, and despite its huge recent growth, its numbers are substantially lower than in the past. It is not only political parties suffering falling participation and declining membership; trade unions have seen a loss of members over the past 30 years. In 1979, 13.2 million people were trade unionists in the UK. Today it is approximately 7 million.
It is a global trend and, as union membership has declined, union mergers have taken place—I have taken my part in some of those—and become common across Europe and the US. Although the TUC in Britain represents more than 5.8 million workers in 51 unions, 3.8 million are in just four unions. There is a similar trend in the German TUC.
The culture of unions speaking with one voice—an important aspect of solidarity—has left many in traditional sectors of the economy feeling unrepresented. Their voice and their interests have not been heard.
The reduced membership of traditional representative institutions such as political parties and trade unions—a trend far from unique to Britain—is clearly bound up with major social and economic changes which have taken place over the past three or four decades, as many have said in this debate. The contraction of heavy industry and manufacturing has encouraged a growth in the financial and service sectors. More people are entering higher education than in the past and, of course, women are more prominent in the workplace. All these changes have helped to radically reshape traditional social identities and patterns of working and living, and these have in turn altered political participation and allegiance.
Added to this has been the growth of new forms of social media, which has revolutionised the way people and groups interact and organise, a process that has contributed to the fragmentation and redefinition of political engagement. Across Europe, people are less tribal about politics and less trusting of traditional institutions and elected representatives. Younger people, in particular, are less inclined to vote or become members of political parties. Many today have an a la carte approach to politics, feeling more comfortable supporting organisations on an issue-by-issue basis rather than by committing to membership of a political party with its broader policy platform.
That trend should not necessarily be seen as entirely negative. The fact that pressure groups and campaigning charities can flourish in the 21st century is evidence that there remains an interest and concern for civic life. It is not apathy but the way we deal with people’s concerns that really matters. However, single-issue groups cannot perform the critical function of integrating various interests into a general political programme, and then campaigning to win majority support for it, which is the task of a political party—a task that the changing nature of political participation has made more difficult than ever.
The realisation that society is changing and that people are engaging in politics differently from in the past is one of the biggest challenges. In the UK we have seen a long-term trend of declining vote share for the two main parties and lower voter turnout. Turnout at elections has fallen from historical highs. General election turnout reached its peak in 1950. Then, we had 83.9% of people voting. In 2001 it had fallen to 59.4%, and although turnout has slightly increased in elections held since then, in 2015, as we all know, it was 66.1%, which is well below the historical average.
Of course, 2015 saw the election of a Conservative Government, with 330 seats, with 36.9% of the popular vote, giving them a working majority of 12. In 1964, Harold Wilson and the Labour Party achieved 317 seats with a 44.1% share of the vote. As we have heard, in 2015 we saw UKIP come third with 12.6%, but only one seat. The Greens won their highest ever share of the vote with 3.8%, but only one seat. Of course, the Liberal Democrats had their worst result since they were founded and held just eight of their previous 57 seats. Devolution and the rise of nationalist parties, in particular the surge of the SNP, have made it virtually impossible for the two major parties to achieve an overall majority.
As we heard in the debate, apart from those longer-term trends, the global financial crisis has brought not only economic dislocation and disruption, but an even greater challenge to the established political parties in most of Europe. The fight over the centre ground has been replaced by populist rhetoric from both ends of the political spectrum—from the left, Greece’s Syriza and Spain’s Podemos; from the right, our own UKIP and France’s National Front.
All centre parties have struggled to respond to the forces of globalisation but, as my noble friend Lord Knight said, the answer lies in a social and economic reform agenda that is both achievable and perceived to be so—an agenda that faces up to and addresses the inequalities in our society, both here and abroad. It is, as we have heard, also about restoring trust in politics. I believe we all have a responsibility to address the questions I pose; I address them not simply to the Minister. All parties have this responsibility. What has been done to clean up politics, including taking big money out of the system? How do we modernise and improve voter engagement through our political parties? What do we do to overcome the apparent gap between activists and voters—a gap that appears to be widening every day?
On interpretation of words, Nick Clegg wrote an amazing piece in the London Evening Standard saying: “Blaming liberalism for the world’s political turmoil is just too easy”. He argues that the “rush to condemn liberalism” was evidenced by Theresa May declaring herself against “laissez-faire liberalism”, and John McDonnell attacking the “neo-liberal straitjacket”. Liberally swinging between small “l” and big “L”, Nick Clegg reduced a debate on political economy to one about the Liberal Democrats. We have had a bit of that today, to be honest. He pointed to others in Europe, in particular targeting his partners in the coalition Government, for the crisis in confidence in politics and the political class. However, no mention was made of his singing apology for promising one thing and doing another. That is what trust is about: being committed to delivering for the people you seek to represent.
Of course, we have seen our biggest attack on civil society through the coalition Government attacking trade unions. The biggest breach was attacking legal aid and access to justice. These attacks have continued in relation to civil society, with the attacks on trade union political funds.
If we do not develop and deliver credible alternatives to economic, employment and social challenges, the risk is that voters across Europe will abandon mainstream politics altogether for the ugly populism of the ultra-right.
My Lords, I join in the congratulations offered to the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, on giving the House this opportunity to discuss and reflect on these extremely important issues. It is also a special day simply because it is the last Thursday of Liberal Democrat debates this Session. A fitting way to conclude is to reflect on these issues. I shall seek to echo that mood of reflection and rhetorical questioning that we have heard from around the House today.
The liberal international order, also called the rules-based international order, describes the system brought into being by the United States, the UK and other allies and partners in response to the horrors of the Second World War. I was born after the Second World War, but my father fought in it. I grew up in that atmosphere of recognising how we had to work together to avoid such a horror ever occurring again.
At its core, it is a system defined by economic openness; democracy and the rule of law; respect for human rights; and rules-based relations between states. It has become formalised over time through multilateral organisations such as the UN, the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the web of international conventions, laws, agreements and norms which shape and regulate relations between nation states. This multilateral architecture has been underpinned by the economic and military power of the United States and its security alliances, including NATO, which together cover some 50 countries around our world. The democratic, rules-based international model was further strengthened by the collapse of the Soviet Union, its ideology and its client states.
Not all countries are democracies, but all countries which have signed up to the UN charter have committed to a set of binding principles on human rights, rule of law, peaceful resolution of disputes and collective action to solve problems. Multilateral institutions and democratic values are now central to discussions of good governance.
Since the Second World War, this system of laws, institutions, norms and values has helped us all to promote an exceptional period of economic growth and democratic transition across the world. It has lifted hundreds of millions of people out of poverty and spread political and economic freedoms.
The increasingly deep integration of trade, investment, people and information— otherwise described as globalisation—has been a particular feature of global growth during the past 25 years. The global economy has more than doubled in size since 1989. In 1981, almost half the world’s population lived in extreme poverty—I reflected on this as the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, was speaking. Today, that figure is less than one in 10. She was right to draw attention to the improvements that have been made and must continue to be made.
This economic transformation has been accompanied by extraordinary political change. In the past 30 years, the number of democracies has doubled. Working together, countries have improved the lives of many people around the world—from tackling human rights abuses, most recently on issues such as sexual violence and modern slavery, to prosecuting war crimes and genocide and finding solutions to global threats such as climate change.
The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, reminded us that, not long ago, some were suggesting that we had reached “the end of history”. As she made clear, that was a somewhat dramatic way of saying that the liberal international order looked set to remain unchallenged. It is now clear that this was complacent; the noble Baroness was right. Today, as many noble Lords have indicated, there are more challenges to the rules-based order and more concerns about the merits of this model than for many years.
The rise of China has led some to argue that economic development does not need, or automatically lead to, democracy. The gradual historic shift of economic power from developed to emerging economies has led others to question whether the current institutional architecture is still fit for purpose, and whether the new, emerging economies that have reaped the benefits of openness are now committed to shouldering some of the responsibilities of leadership. All this comes at a time when the continuing impact of the 2008 financial crisis has undermined the faith of electorates, not just in the competence of Governments but in the benefits of open economies. Free trade is stagnating. Protectionism is on the increase.
Alongside these economic changes, the world today feels more dangerous and more volatile. Political freedoms are under threat in some of our newer democracies and independent nation states. A nationalist rhetoric which seeks to blame others has resurfaced. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, reminded us very clearly of some of the threats we face. For the first time since the Second World War, one European country—Russia—has forcibly annexed the territory of another. Russia continues to undermine the sovereignty of Ukraine, in contravention of its obligations. Russia is also supporting, in President Assad of Syria, a leader who has waged a brutal war against his people.
In the wider Middle East and across parts of Africa and south Asia, the nation state itself is under threat from violent, ruthless, non-state actors such as Daesh and al-Qaeda. These groups have an entirely different vision of a future world order, coupled with a determination to use terror globally to achieve their aims. Global conflict, most notably in the Middle East and Africa, has led to more than 60 million people being displaced from their homes—the highest number since 1945. These humanitarian catastrophes have put pressure on generous neighbours, aid agencies and the international system committed to giving a safe haven to refugees.
All these challenges are increasing the pressure on political systems, and raising fears for many that their children’s lives will be worse than their own. As parents, we know that parents strive to make improvements—that the future should be better for their family. While recognising these political challenges, we must be careful in our use of the terms populism and nationalism. As noble Lords have said, they are broad terms, interpreted in different ways. Popular discontent takes different forms from country to country. So-called populist or nationalist parties or movements can indeed appear, as we have been reminded today, on the left as well as the right, and may be responding to particular domestic circumstances and issues. Some are focused primarily on economic inequality. Some use xenophobic language, attempting to blame complex problems on others. Others are led by charismatic leaders with a personal political vision and agenda.
As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has set out in her recent speeches, including today in Davos—I am grateful to my noble friends Lord Tugendhat, Lady Stroud and Lady Finn for referring to that speech in more detail—she has identified that the underlying problem is that many people in the developed world feel that the gains from global, open economies have not been shared equitably in recent years. People fear that globalisation has enriched corporations and elites and that it has opened the door to unfettered competition which has driven the decline of traditional industries and regions and destroyed jobs.
This Government argue that inequality and regional decline are not, and must not become, inevitable consequences of globalisation. We believe that competition can drive the efficiency, innovation and growth we need to build our prosperity. I was very interested in the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Stone of Blackheath, who talked about big data. That was a refreshingly different speech this afternoon—it just shows what the House of Lords can do. Furthermore, we must remember that more jobs are now lost to technological advancement and automation than to off-shoring, for example.
However, we all, in Parliament and in government, have a responsibility to assist those who have lost out. In my right honourable friend the Prime Minister’s words, we will be:
“A confident global Britain that doesn’t turn its back on globalisation but ensures the benefits are shared by all”.
In a changing world, we can shape both domestic and foreign policy to help people be better prepared to deal with the challenges of rapid economic change.
This also means that we must be robust in countering the xenophobia that is a feature of some populist and nationalist rhetoric, while also recognising the balance that must be struck on immigration, to which so many noble Lords have rightly referred. Immigration is important in developed countries: it brings us economic benefits, innovation and a diversity of skills and experience. However, we must ensure that the rate of immigration is at a pace which means that those arriving can be appropriately integrated into our communities.
Strengthening the rules-based international order and the institutions and values that underpin it remains the best way to ensure our collective security and prosperity, and to advance the UK interest. However, we also recognise that systems and institutions cannot remain unchanged. In a changing political and economic landscape, we need to look carefully at how institutions and rules can adapt to maintain legitimacy. That is why, for example, we joined the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. It is also why the UK supports enlarging the permanent membership of the Security Council of the United Nations to include important, rising global powers, such as India. We believe that emerging powers have benefited from the openness, transparency and rules of the existing order. The last 70 years have shown that this international order can be flexible and effective in adapting to profound political change and finding a way to reconcile political and cultural diversity. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Sheikh for reminding us that it is essential that we respect that cultural diversity.
In this context, I come to the subject of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. Some have ventured to suggest that the decision by UK voters last year may be part of the challenge to the current order but that interpretation would be fundamentally incorrect. As we have said many times and as my right honourable friend the Prime Minister made clear again in her speech at Lancaster House on Tuesday this week, the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union should on no account be interpreted as a rejection of the UK’s historic global role, of the institutions of the rules-based international order or of the universal values which we and our European partners champion. As is often said, we may be leaving the European Union as an institution but we are not leaving our European partners. We remain fundamentally committed to them all. We are not and never will be an inward-looking country; we have been and will remain a global Britain.
We recognise the extraordinary achievements of the European project in bringing peace and prosperity to a devastated and divided continent. We have Members in this House who have played a key role in that achievement. We will be embarking on a new kind of relationship with Europe but we will remain,
“reliable partners, willing allies and close friends”,
of our European colleagues. We will continue to work together to support an open, rules-based order that serves our shared values. We will retain the joint goal of shared prosperity, security and stability in our European neighbourhood and beyond. As has been reflected upon so often today, on many issues—such as the promotion and protection of human rights globally—it is vital that the UK remains the closest of partners in promoting human rights around the world, in our own country and within the European context.
I turn briefly to the incoming Administration of President-elect Trump. Much mention has been made of him, some of it not entirely flattering. Some outside this House have been tempted to draw early and potentially incorrect conclusions about the future direction of US foreign policy. A change in the US Administration invariably impacts on foreign policy, but the complex system of alliances and multilateral commitments which the US has supported since 1945, through different Administrations, is strong and enduring. Throughout our history, the UK has worked successfully with Republican and Democratic presidents to advance our mutual interests and tackle shared challenges. We have not always agreed, regardless of the party in power in Washington. However, we have always understood that nothing would fundamentally shake our strong bond based on history, mutual interests and shared values. That remains, so we expect that this will be the case with President-elect Trump. The US was instrumental in creating the rules-based order, including NATO, the cornerstone of European security, so we look forward to continuing our close co-operation with the US both to champion that order and to demonstrate active leadership in the UN and other institutions.
What can the UK do? The rules-based international order is clearly fundamental to our security and prosperity. We will face challenges. Noble Lords have reflected carefully on them. However, I am confident that, working with our key friends and allies and with the support of British parliamentarians in both Houses, we can navigate the development of a more resilient, inclusive international order over the coming years in line with our values and interests. The UK will continue to champion this system by promoting, with renewed vigour, the United Nations as the primary pillar of the rules-based system. We must remain passionate in our defence of its crucial role and mission, while continuing to seek reform through working closely with the new and most welcome Secretary-General, António Guterres. We will continue to work collaboratively with all partners to defeat global challenges, including terrorism, climate change and cybercrime, to which reference has been made. We will be robust in our defence against attacks on the rules-based order by those states and non-state actors who think that somehow the rules do not apply to them. They should, and they will. We will continue to work closely with our European allies in foreign and security policy, and following our departure from the European Union we will champion open economies and free trade. We will maintain our commitment to spend 0.7% GNI on development aid and 2% GDP on defence. We will continue to take a compassionate and pragmatic approach to global problems such as the migrant crisis, including supporting refugees in their region and seeking peaceful settlements in conflict-affected countries such as Syria, Libya and Yemen.
I am being reminded of the time. The UK remains an open, progressive, democratic country whose objectives are best served by a rules-based international order. That world order has delivered huge benefits. It remains robust, but it faces many threats. We all have a duty to continue to defend it and to ensure that it is in good shape for many years to come. This has been an important debate. I am finishing slightly early because otherwise I appreciate that the mover of the debate would have no opportunity to respond. I am glad that he raised this issue today.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her very courteous and focused reply. I also thank all noble Lords who took part in the debate, which was thoughtful and wide-ranging. The right reverend Prelates gave us thoughtful and philosophical contributions which added considerably to the debate. I am grateful to the Minister for reiterating her commitment to 0.7%, and I am comfortable with 2% for defence as well. I say gently to the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, that as a consequence of the depreciation of the pound, our aid budget is already being sufficiently cut because of its reduced purchasing power and adverse trade relations with Africa, so we need to maintain it.
The particular point on populism was about addressing the interests of ordinary voters. There is no doubt at all that the populist and nationalist movements have done that very effectively, but I suggest to the House—I think the debate concurred with this—that it is liberal values and liberal institutions that will deliver the answers to those people. We have acknowledged our failings and our complicity in giving them disaffection, but it is up to us now to unite on measures which will show how liberal values can bring them back into the frame and address their concerns. I believe this debate has been a useful and constructive contribution to that.