The fork in the path: The stakes of the UK general election tomorrow

Tomorrow, something important’s happening. Though it has become a cliché, clichés are sometimes true, and this one is: tomorrow’s general election will define the UK’s future. Here’s why.

The NHS: At risk of privatisation (Creative Commons)

If Boris’s Conservatives win a majority–even if Boris himself loses his seat–the Conservatives will go through with their manifesto commitment to a hard Brexit. That means not just leaving the EU’s single market but also doing no Labour-style customs-union arrangement. Leave means leave.

But where would we go from there? Even if trade tariffs with the EU don’t rise that high, being outside the EU single market and customs union would be deadly for UK trade. Given external trade amounts to nearly a third of the British economy, we’d need to develop closer trading ties with someone else. Few states like ours do well by relying on WTO rules of baseline low tariffs. It’s not something that’s conducive to growth. We’d need to do deals–and fast.

Problem is, it usually takes a long time to do these deals. That’s why 163 economists wrote a letter to the FT saying households under Labour (which, by putting a second referendum to the people, is likely to lead to a Remain outcome) would be better off than under the Tories. But more of that later.

Another problem is that we’d need to do a trade deal with one of the two other major regional markets in the global economy, apart from the EU: China or the US. Given our trading ties with China are smaller than our trading ties with the US, it’d be better to deal with the US. But here’s where the problems multiply.

The US doesn’t do trade deals nicely. It usually demands small countries like the UK give it access to their domestic markets, in part by commodifying formerly public services (via the US-based IMF and World Bank when it comes to poorer countries, and via multilateral and bilateral trade agreements with richer countries)–just like the NHS. US corporations love this, because they can treat small states’ public services like the US’s healthcare system–which is extremely costly due to the perverse incentives for monopolistic healthcare companies to charge customers extortionate rates that under a national health insurance or national healthcare system don’t exist to anywhere near the same extent.

It’s not as though we’d have much leverage. We wouldn’t have the EU to go to, and the US would know we wouldn’t benefit as much from a trade deal with China than we would with the US. So the US will demand everything, and we will give them everything. It’s inevitable–no matter what Boris says. A hard Brexit means a privatised NHS.

But it gets worse. Outside the EU, an organisation where at least we have a vote, we’d simply be told what to do by the US, given the disparity between the US’s economy and ours. The US doesn’t need us. But we need it. We’d not only be told what to do–we wouldn’t have a say. Our political system would become a vassal of the US empire. At least in the EU, we were a vassal with a vote. In the US relationship, we’d be a vassal without any vote whatsoever.

So, the only way of making the relationship with the US work would be to become the 51st state of the USA. I’m serious. If we have no vote, then we should get one, and join with a country that actually has a say in how the global economy is run. If we’re not a member-state of the EU, we must become the 51st state of the US. There is no middle ground. Well, there is, but it’s vassalage–and who wants to be a vassal?

Sad thing is: being a vassal is likely where we’d end up, thanks to nationalist suspicion of international political integration. At least we’re already in the EU, so more likely to commit to political integration there–however low that likelihood is. Joining another political unity like the US is another question entirely–especially given that the US is far more centralised than the EU. We would end up being a vassal. The best way to avoid that is to remain in the EU.

What is the best way, then, to remain in the EU? It’s obvious: not the Liberal Democrats’ patently undemocratic pledge to revoke Article 50, but Labour’s democratic plan for a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal–a second referendum, if you like, but where the choice is not ‘Leave vs. Remain’ but ‘Soft Brexit vs. Remain’, perhaps with a no-deal option (though it’s highly unlikely anyone in Labour at the moment would commit to that option being on the ballot paper).

‘Stop one moment!’, I hear you cry, ‘What about Labour’s dangerous economic policy?’ Well, though I for one think it’s a sensible and fair economic policy, as do economists from Simon Wren-Lewis to Joseph Stiglitz, there are others who don’t, and that’s fine. You should still vote for Labour. Why? Because Labour won’t be able to get through any of its big economic policy programme the next term–it’ll be a minority government with a confidence-and-supply arrangement with the Lib Dems and/or the SNP. It doesn’t want to give the Lib Dems a referendum on proportional representation, as that kind of system would hurt Labour and generally slow everything down (as PR systems always do). And it certainly doesn’t want to give the SNP a referendum on Scottish independence–though, even if it did, Remain would clearly win because having a Labour government in Westminster delegitimates the SNP’s argument that the Union = Conservative Rule. So, the Lib Dems and the SNP won’t give Labour much on economic policy. They’ll only give it one thing: a second referendum, held within six months, and likely followed by another general election. Then we can make our minds up on economics.

For now, the choice is simple. We can vote to power either:

  1. A Conservative majority government –> a hard Brexit –> expensive US-style private healthcare –> vassalage to either the EU or the US; or
  2. A Labour minority government –> a second referendum –> a probable remain vote (or a vote for a soft Brexit), saving the NHS from Trump –> another general election where we can make our minds up on economic policy, capitalism vs. socialism, and all that jazz.

Tory or Labour. Hard Brexit or second referendum. Private NHS or public NHS. Vassalage or democracy. The choice is clear.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s