Responsible nationalism: This new ideology could be the antidote to both Trump and Brexit

Matt Clinch
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Holiday Scenes From The Traditional Seaside Town Of Blackpool
Disenfranchised coastal towns like Blackpool could get a leg-up from a more nationally-minded government (Source: Getty)

Britons will be forgiven for still being a little anxious over the future of their country after voting to quit the European Union in June.

There’s not been much to chew on in the weeks following a referendum that seemed like the UK had hit the reset button on globalism itself.

But amid the vast reams of commentary and political noise from the newspapers, I’ve noted a new buzzword that’s been thrust into the mainstream by former US treasury secretary Larry Summers.

His idea of “responsible nationalism”, which he described in an opinion piece in the Financial Times last month, suggests that the primary responsibility of any government is – shock, horror – the welfare of its own citizens, as opposed to some abstract vision of globalism.

He takes aim at the policies of the EU and the economic forces that have led to the rise of US presidential candidate Donald Trump. He even accepts some of the blame himself, conceding in a later radio interview that he is part of the global establishment that Trump is railing against.

“His core view is right ... there are limits to what we can expect from international cooperation. Governments always have to focus inwardly,” Carl Weinberg, chief economist at High Frequency Economics, told CNBC.

Read more: From Brexit to Trump, the elites have lost control over politics

I’m told Summers’s idea is an old thesis of his that has been angled away from central banking towards politics. Nonetheless, the idea seems pertinent to the mammoth undertaking facing the UK’s new Prime Minister, who is tasked with guiding the country out of the EU. And it is presumably what Summers wants Hillary Clinton to aim at if she beats Trump to the White House in November.

I found the referendum a rather ugly and shocking affair, but there must be a major silver lining for any UK citizen, no matter what box they ticked. Wide divisions and disenfranchised towns were highlighted in many parts of the country, but that surely cannot be swept under the carpet now? I have a feeling a vote to remain in the EU would have meant business as usual.

We now have a Conservative politician as Prime Minister who sounds like she is a member of the Labour Party with her promises of a “country that works for everyone”. In the words of The Economist last month, “the new divide in rich countries is not between left and right but between open and closed.”

Jonathan Portes, principal research fellow at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, is quick to point out that what we have heard from Theresa May is “just words.” But he is hopeful it might mean a change from the “gimmicky policies” of previous leaders.

“The UK has not done well in developing some parts of the country, specifically some coastal towns and northern towns,” he told CNBC. “In the Autumn Statement we’ll see that intent.”

Summers may have been vague in his article; he may have talked of policies that any government in the EU is able to achieve in the current setup. But if nationalism does fully re-emerge in the coming years, I would like to think that it will be in its most “responsible” of forms.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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