Martin McCluskey asks us to consider the important work we could be doing if we weren’t stuck dealing with politically manufactured problems like Brexit and Trump. This article was originally published on Martin’s own blog.

 

Last week, Elon Musk launched a rocket that could take a man to Mars.

At the same time, in Scotland, some SNP MPs were arguing about the shape of a map. In Washington, President Trump hatched a plan to have tanks roll down Pennsylvania Avenue. And in London, the Brexit shambles carried on.

Never has politics felt so small (while the consequences are so great) and our leaders so unsuited to a time of massive technological and social change. Donald Dewar once referred to the “tyranny of the tiny” in response to those who would take Scotland out of the UK. Today, we are at the mercy of a new tyranny of the tiny, as too many world leaders look the other way on problems that are just around the corner.

At the turn of the 21st century, we looked forward to a period of prosperity, where we could be happier, healthier and safer than we ever were in the 20th. In large part, that’s exactly what has happened. We’re living longer as the threat of disease and famine has diminished. Our standard of living has improved, even if it needs to move quicker to keep up with other changes. And while war once claimed the lives of millions in a matter of months, today’s conflicts — while still horrifying — have not had the same impact.

As Barack Obama put it when he edited Wired in 2017, “if you had to choose any time in the course of human history to be alive, you’d choose this one.”

But still, insecurity and uncertainty prevail, brought about by a lack of proper national leadership. Debates between members of the government in the UK look like arguments between members of a special interest club, not between people we put in charge of running our country.

When my generation looks back on this period in forty or fifty years, it is at risk of looking like a waste of a great opportunity. Here we are — healthier and safer than we ever were — but looking inwards, and being held back by Prime Ministers and Presidents who are hostages to the extreme fringes of their political movements.

And if we don’t get a grip, the next series of major changes to how our world operates will happen before we’ve even had the chance to think about what to do about them. Just think about what could be achieved with real progressive leadership in a world where Brexit or Trump had been defeated, not by a narrow margin but by a significant progressive majority.

In that scenario we could be using the time now to prepare our country, and our world, for the challenges that are coming round the corner. Real challenges that are going to affect the way we live and work, whether we like it or not, and not ones that we have created for ourselves, like leaving the European Union.

We could be working even harder to achieve the real progress on climate change which threatens the lives of millions of people. We could be building a progressive consensus on how to tackle income and wealth inequality, which risks tearing the fabric of our society apart. And we could be getting to grips with how artificial intelligence and automation can make our lives better, rather than simply being a risk to jobs.

Instead we are, at best, tinkering around the edges and, at worst, sticking our fingers in our ears as we focus on politically manufactured problems. So when people ask why we need real progressive leadership today in the UK from Labour, or in the US from the Democrats or in any of the leading world economies, it’s not just because I want to see my side win. It’s because we quite literally can’t afford for them not to.

While tech experts and entrepreneurs are putting rockets into space and coding the next algorithm that could put thousands of people out of work, public debate has become more and more narrow. As one leading coding expert said to me recently, “it’s not that we don’t want to talk to politicians, we just aren’t speaking the same language any more”.

In an environment where experts, facts, reason and logic are derided, this might not be a surprise. However, we proceed on this basis at the expense of a whole generation whose lives will be affected (for good or ill) by the major changes we are currently ignoring. For the very large majority of under 35s who voted to Remain — and who will inherit the results of the Brexit negotiations — there needs to be a progressive argument that addresses the triple challenge of climate change, inequality and automation that will define this generation’s prospects.

When John F Kennedy announced his intention to send a man to the moon over fifty years ago, he spoke about a generation refusing to “founder in the backwash of the coming age”. Last week, Elon Musk built on the legacy of Kennedy’s leadership, and billions of dollars of historic public investment, to put a rocket into space.

Fifty years from now, will we look back on this period as the peaceful and prosperous moment where we met the challenges of the future, or as the time when politics failed to command a majority for progress? The challenge now is to engage with the future, instead of being held hostage by our pasts.

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10 thoughts on “The tyranny of the tiny

  1. Martin,
    You say “When my generation looks back on this period in forty or fifty years, it is at risk of looking like a waste of a great opportunity.”
    Let me point something out to you. You are dead right there, because if you keep fantasising as in “Just think about what could be achieved with real progressive leadership in a world where Brexit or Trump had been defeated”, then you will have wasted the next 40/50 years.
    I don’t need to spell this out to you, or do I? I think I maybe I do. Martin, Trump and Brexit are real. They are real because they won: as in, they won a democratic vote: as in they won more votes than their opponents. As in Trump is now President Trump of the USA and Brexit means Britain is exiting the EU next year.
    You need to accept the reality of these facts, fantasising about what might have been is a waste of your time. Politics is not about wishing things were different, it is about the actual results. The results of elections and referendums; what made the electorate vote they way they did. And it is about how we deal with these results.
    Also, who do you think your audience is here? “Fifty years from now, will we look back on this period as the peaceful and prosperous moment where we met the challenges of the future, or as the time when politics failed to command a majority for progress? The challenge now is to engage with the future, instead of being held hostage by our pasts”, Martin, Please don’t talk like that.

    1. I’m not sure what your problem is precisely, Richard, but I don’t like the tone of your comments towards Martin. He has taken the time and effort to set out what a lot of people have found a pretty rousing and important set of observations. You’ve come along and been patronising and negative without ever giving an alternative.

      I also think it was entirely clear from the tone of the piece that Martin is calling for progressive people to unite to try to oppose these changes in the world. I suspect you know that too.

      You comment a lot on here, and it’s mostly this sort of patronising criticism of others’ hard work. How about you submit an article yourself setting out what you think and what you would do, rather than constantly denigrating the ideas of others?

      info@labourhame.com

      1. “How about you submit an article yourself setting out what you think and what you would do”

        Sounds great…………

        I would like to write 3 articles for Labour Hame and I wouldn’t be for pulling any punches.

        They would be along the lines of;

        (1) Why the Labour Party should support a hard Brexit.

        (2) Why the Labour Party should fight against political correctness.

        (3) Why Momentum is a party within a party and has no place in the Labour Party.

        Would you agree in principle to publish them?

        1. Hi Andy. We welcome all submissions but unfortunately I can’t agree to publish until after we’ve seen them. That said, the occasions when I have declined to publish have been very rare. If submissions avoid personal attacks and dishonesty – which I’m sure yours would – and are relevant to our readership, you can be fairly confident of being published. Many thanks.

        2. When supposedly “Labour” supporters start advocating UKIP policies, you have to wonder if they are in the right party.

          A “Hard Brexit” is a view held overwhelmingly by the extreme Tory right, UKIP and BritNat extremists. It is a leap into isolationism that owes nothing to reason and everything to a wholly undeserved belief in British exceptionalism.

          “Political Correctness” may be a pain at times but, on the whole, it exists for very good reasons. Such as combatting racism, bigotry, sexism and sundry other unpleasant human failings. To “fight against” it is to give support to those whose intolerance is being held in check by it. “Political correctness gone mad” is a phrase usually uttered by an elderly relative at a family gathering right before they say something appalling about a section of society that is “not like us”. “Politically correct” views should be challenged on an individual basis, but they should not be opposed as a matter of course.

          As to Momentum being a party within a party, factionalism within the big UK parties appears the norm to me. It was ever thus, as they say. That Momentum has a name rather than a description doesn’t seem that much different to past groupings like “New Labour” and “Old Labour” or “Blairites” and “Brownites” for instance.

          But, as I wondered above, perhaps you are looking to create your own “party within a party” of like minded people who want to see Britannia standing proud (but alone) on her bit of rock in the Atlantic, revelling in a society where racism, sexism, homophobia and bigotry are allowed to thrive but, for some reason, think the Labour party is the vehicle to deliver that. Would you not be more comfortable in UKIP or Colonel Ruthie’s “Blue Collar/Orange Sash” Tory party?

          I realise this reply does not directly reference the article it is under, but I believe it is relevant to what the author was driving at concerning what he thinks of as “progressive”.

      2. I don’t have an opinion any longer. I just observe and comment. If I sound cynical it is because I am. If I was too hard on Martin I apologise without reservation.

    2. Just for accuracy (and pedantry’s) sake, Trump didn’t get more votes than Clinton. Clinton actually got a few million more votes than him. It was the electoral system that defeated Clinton. Just saying.

  2. I have just read this article again (after a severe and justified reprimand from the site commandant for my first comment) and this statement by the author needs clarified. “Donald Dewar once referred to the “tyranny of the tiny” in response to those who would take Scotland out of the UK”.
    Martin, do you believe as Donald Dewar did that Scotland was just too small to make it as an independent country?
    This is an academic question now. But it is important because it shines a light on your beliefs. We decided, Scotland, on 18.09.14 to stay within the union. As I said in my first post, I accept democratic decisions and I believe that event has secured the union of Scotland and England for ever. Nonetheless, if you think that we Scots were bullied into that referendum then I come to two conclusions. First, that for some reason you think it was wrong that we Scots held the vote and; two, you think as Donald Dewar did in his time, that Scotland was/is unable to stand alone as an independent nation.
    If you are of that opinion I would say it is illogical, it is a refusal to accept that people hold differing opinion to you and, what is more, although of no concern to me, it is contrary to the majority of Scottish Labour belief. The vast majority of Labour supporters and Labour elected members have never denied, an independent Scotland can stand on its own.
    Although unionists don’t believe in an independent Scotland, as is their right, I have never heard a unionist politician, labour or conservative say Scotland is too small to be an independent country.
    Are you challenging that position?

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