Anti-immigrant nostalgia has Brexit in with a chance
The murder in the street of Labour MP Jo Cox late this week has cast a shadow on the debate over whether or not Britain should leave the European Union, ahead of next Thursday’s vote. Early reports suggest the alleged killer, arrested at the scene, was heard shouting “Britain first”. Cox was a pro-EU campaigner.
Global financial markets have taken a bath in recent days as realisation sets in, based on recent opinion polls, that the Leave camp has a good chance of winning. In which case we can expect David Cameron to pay with his political head for losing his gamble with his Conservative Party’s right wing, and blond joker Boris Johnson to be installed as prime minister.
What then? It seems that Johnson has no idea. He and other advocates of leaving suggest the British can keep the advantages of belonging − trade access to the single market and visa-free travel − while gaining the right to block free entry by citizens of the EU countries. Non-members Norway and Switzerland have arrangements like this. Somehow, untrammelled by the red tape of Brussels and reconnecting with the Anglosphere, British capitalism could then recapture the piratical spirit that built the Empire.
Yet Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, says expecting market access is nonsense. “That won’t work. It would require the country to abide by the rules of a club from which it currently wants to withdraw,” he told Der Spiegel. “In is in. Out is out.” A host of institutions including the Bank of England have warned that the cost of a British exit would be very heavy for British taxpayers. The nasty array of nationalists in European politics would also be encouraged, to the delight of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
But older British voters warm more to the anti-immigrant appeal of Johnson’s right-wing Tories and the UK Independence Party’s Nigel Farage. Like certain politicians here, Johnson and company have made “regaining control of our borders” their catchphrase. But it’s no longer a matter of retreating behind the English Channel.
For one thing, the border between Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland is open. Then the Scots would probably follow a Brexit by leaving the United Kingdom to remain in the EU. Is Johnson proposing a Trump-like wall against the Irish and Scots? It seems not.
Maybe a late burst of voter registration by young Brits, who tend to like the free movement and employment possibilities of the EU, will outweigh the older nostalgists and the working-class people who face the most job competition from migrants. If not, those waving the Union Jack so defiantly could see the flag deconstructed.
Ian Harris, whose Z/Yen Group ranks financial centres, thinks a Brexit would be a “collective act of financial and geopolitical suicide”. It would hasten a transfer of financial business from London to Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo rather than other European cities, he writes in Foreign Policy online.
“I can envisage experts in a quarter of a century’s time,” Harris writes, “looking back to 2016, opining that Brexit and the resulting political instability in Britain and across Europe were the geopolitical tipping point that finally, truly switched commercial attention in the West toward the Asia-Pacific region.”
America’s politicians, meanwhile, split along predictable lines in reaction to last weekend’s mass murder at an Orlando gay nightclub by a young American Muslim, Omar Mateen, who proclaimed to be inspired by Daesh.
For Republicans it was the “worst act of terrorism” since the 9/11 attacks and evidence of the danger of “extremist Islam”, requiring ever more draconian immigration controls and security surveillance. For Democrats, it was “the deadliest mass shooting in American history” and a “hate crime”, requiring tighter controls on guns, at least the kind of assault rifle wielded by Mateen.
We’ll see whether it plays into the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. He certainly thinks it does. Within 24 hours of the Orlando attack, he was claiming credit for his prescience. “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism,” he tweeted, in response to what he said was “tens of thousands” of messages of support. “Because our leaders are weak, I said this was going to happen – and it is only going to get worse,” he also stated. “I am trying to save lives and prevent the next terrorist attack. We can’t afford to be politically correct anymore.”
On Rupert Murdoch’s Fox network, he went on to insinuate Barack Obama was a secret supporter of Islamist terrorism. Obama “doesn’t get it, or he gets it better than anybody understands”, he said. “It’s one or the other. And either one is unacceptable.” Trump also repeated his call for a ban on entry by all Muslims to the US. This included Syrian refugees who could be “the all-time-great Trojan Horse”.
We all know the danger is already within. So many of the recent terrorism attacks and attempts in Western countries have come from locally born and raised young people, groomed on the internet by groups such as Daesh or older fanatics who hang around mosques looking for troubled souls.
In most countries, they struggle to get more than pistols or shotguns. This week’s Daesh-inspired murders of a police officer and his partner near Paris involved a knife. In America, they can quite freely buy the kind of individual firepower we reserve for the SAS. Can’t all those of our politicians and pundits who hobnob so happily with Republicans in forums such as the Australian American Leadership Dialogue be a bit more blunt about the stupidity and repugnance of American gun worship?
Sadly, the Orlando shootings can be expected to have caused a rush to arms by Americans. Shares in the gun-makers Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Co rose sharply in premarket trading on news of the massacre.
As journalist Lee Fang reports in The Intercept website, mass shootings lead to calls for gun controls, so potential and existing gun owners rush out to buy weapons and ammunition. Obama has indeed called on Congress to stop opposing a ban on sales of assault weapons and barring people on terrorism watchlists from buying guns.
Sturm, Ruger is the largest handgun maker in the United States. Its chief executive, Michael Fifer, told shareholders last month it had enjoyed spikes in demand “strongly correlated to the tragic terrorist activities in Paris and San Bernardino.” Sales had slowed after these events, however Fifer saw a “big opportunity for the distributors to step up and take on inventory” for election-related sales. In February he told investors that “we’ll see a step up of demand if a Democrat wins” the presidency. If the Democrats won back control of the senate, gun sales would jump even more on fears that liberal appointees to the Supreme Court would restrict the right to bear arms. Smith & Wesson chief P. James Debney has been making similar forecasts.
Homicides with guns killed 8124 Americans in 2014, about 22 a day, putting the US in a per capita league with the countries in the Middle East, Central America and Africa.
Our mole at the ABC tells us new managing director Michelle Guthrie wants to pull back from the embrace of the Chinese Communist Party’s Publicity Department, as the Ministry of Propaganda is known.
In her first meeting with the board on June 9, Guthrie questioned the value of the ABC’s Chinese language portal, AustraliaPlus.cn, which has been pinged by the ABC’s own watchdogs for pulling awkward content to avoid displeasing the CPC.
We are told she also “forcefully expressed” her interest in the corporation returning to full-blooded international broadcasting, and raised the fact that Radio Australia no longer broadcasts in Mandarin, nor in Tok Pisin, the lingua franca of Papua New Guinea. A return to international TV broadcasting two years after the Abbott government scrapped funding for the ABC’s Australia Network (to please Rupert Murdoch) would not come cheap. Nor would a revival of Radio Australia, once the major arm of Australia’s soft power in the region.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 18, 2016 as "Anti-immigrant nostalgia has Brexit in with a chance". Subscribe here.