Chinese President and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping recently emerged as the world’s unlikely flag-bearer for global capitalism, telling dignitaries in Davos: “Pursuing protectionism is just like locking oneself in a dark room: wind and rain might be kept outside but so are light and air.”
Xi’s pleasingly poetic and enlightened rhetoric contrasts with words currently emanating from the newly-inaugurated leader of the supposedly free world.
“Great thing for the American worker, what we just did,” said Donald Trump this week, after ripping up a multilateral trans-Pacific trade deal. TPP, as it was known, was the result of years of determined negotiating by Barack Obama (despite a considerable overlap between Obama’s young, left-wing fans and the groups of protesters who campaigned against the deal).
On both sides of the pond we see the political spectrum flipped upside down. We see conservatives endorsing ultra-Keynesian stimulus, heavy government interventions and industrial strategies. Many delight in what they view as a democratic affront to the so-called international, capitalist elite. Meanwhile elements of the left urge caution.
In the UK, certain Remainers who previously revelled in banker-bashing now express grave concern about Brexit’s potential impact on financial services.
They have also developed an acute interest in foreign exchange markets, notably the fall in sterling. All the while, some centre-right commentators say the market is irrational and argue that forex traders misunderstand politics.
Yesterday’s Brexit drama was another example of the muddled new world in which we live. The Supreme Court voted to uphold a successful claim brought by Remain campaigners – and yet the day was won not by Gina Miller and her fellow activists, but by Leave backers and the government.
The case has, somewhat ironically, paved the way to Brexit, with MPs extremely unlikely to block the government’s bill.
As we embark on the road towards leaving the EU, amid this global blurring of traditional political identities and strategies, perhaps it is time to break from the conventional dichotomy of Leavers and Remainers and form new coalitions.
Some people across both camps, for example, are united in the wish for Britain to remain as open and as market-liberal as possible (a view shared by this newspaper). With Brexit an impending reality, it is crucial we push for an outcome that promotes economic growth and prosperity on both sides of the Channel.