Europe’s choice: neoliberalism, racist nationalism or the future…

Transcript of a speech at the S&D Europe Together event, 5 July, The Hague

About me: I was a TV journalist and on 15.11.08 I was standing on 5th Avenue outside Lehman Brothers in New York and saw the neoliberal era end. People walked out of that bank with their belongings, they knew, more than us, that the whole system was in danger.

Since then we saved the system. We kept the system on life support using what’s now $20 trillion of quantitative easing, and some spending and some taxation. We stimulated the economy.

We kept capitalism on life support. But you can’t keep an ideology on life support. The human brain demands coherence. The problem with the system we’ve lived with for the last 10 years is its not logical. The theory tells them the state should be small; the market is the best regulator of everything.

The market blew itself up. The state saved capitalism. The ideology is dying.

Now there’s a choice. The choice is you can carry on; carry on enriching, yes maybe, the middle classes and some urbanised people in the developing world and enrich the 1% and say to your own working class and lower middle class n the developed world, here in the Netherlands, in Britain, in Poland, even in Poland and in Hungary: you get nothing from this system but there’s no alternative.

That’s how the elites of Europe and America reacted at first.

But unfortunately there is an alternative and it’s not a nice one. We heard a bit about it before: national, xenophobic authoritarian right wing capitalism.

It’s not a return to the 1930s in one sense. It’s not a state-used form of capitalism. I call it — Trump, Brexit, Viktor Orban’s capitalism — Thatcherism In One Country. The attempt to do neoliberalism, free market economics, impoverishing people in your own country.

Going it alone from what? The thing that Trump sat there with his arms folded and said no to. A rules based international order. You are living through, potentially, the death of the rules based order.

So you can do that [neoliberalism]…

…Or you can head down the route that Trump, Salvini and the Brexit politicians in Britain want. What comes with it is not just economics: violent misogyny, attempts to rip up abortion rights, racism islamophobia and antisemitism.

For years our far right, UKIP, hid mainly behind anti-islam. “Islam is polluting our culture”. Now because its losing support, and lots of fascists are joining it. Now you’re starting to see: “The person bringing all the migrants in is George Soros, Jewish financier”.

It’s coming back. But we can defeat it. I want to talk about how.

The first thing we need to defeat it with is a different vision of the economy. An economy based on growth here in the developed world, not just in China and emerging markets. Of prosperity for you, prosperity for small towns of the Netherlands, Britain, France and Germany.

Social mobility in your lifetime. Not social mobility for your children — of course that too. You get better better. Your life improves, just as my father and mother’s lives improved in the “thirty glorious years” after the war.

Respect at work. If you want to understand the anger that many working class people take with them every day it is the lack of respect they enjoy at work. Bullied, insulted, treated like a number, treated like a machine.

We don’t have to put up with that. That vision of growth, prosperity, high wages, high value economy, high technology, high respect at work is really easy to communicate to somebody who has not had their mind completely polluted by this racist authoritarianism.

And even to them, as we’re now finding out with Brexit: you can’t eat xenophobia. Xenophobia doesn’t doesn’t bring an extra factory, or a new car model into the BMW plant. It takes the BMW factory away. You can’t eat Islamophobia, you cannot eat anti-Semitism.

Even those ones who really believe in it, we have a material way of convincing them to step back from the terrible project to which they’re committed.

What is the risk the European centre runs? It’s a huge risk that Merkel, Macron, Rutte are running.

The risk is first of all that Trump succeeds. President Trump gets a second term. Why? America’s economy is booming. Because Trump has no Maastricht Treaty, no Lisbon Treaty. He will borrow and borrow — and as Yanis Varoufakis pointed out two weeks ago — not only does he spend on his friends the bankers and casino owners and mafiosi; he signs off, yes, every welfare programme the Democrats ask for.

Trump is creating jobs. Nightmare number one, [is that] for some countries nationalist authoritarian economics works. For a while.

But there’s a deeper nightmare that we here in Europe must, must address ourselves to as we see pictures children caged in America and as we see Salvini turning away the refugee boat in the Mediterranean.

I visited the Majdanek concentration camp this year. It’s always stunning to visit one of the concentration camp museums. But what I thought as I looked at it [was]: how low-tech Auschwitz-Birkenau, [and] Majdanek were. They were low technology.

It’s wire, concrete, wood and violence.

If they do it again to us it will be Guantanamo. It will be closed circuit TV. It will be tags on your arms and legs. It will be eyeball recognition. If you want to take the risk of handing to the far right authoritarian nationalists power, momentum, control in Europe, you are taking a much bigger risk than you think.

So we on the left have to do two things. We have to convince our friends and colleagues in the centre of politics that we are not the enemy. Get used to it. If you want to do what you did in the 1930s — crush the left and open the door to the right — you know where it ends up. Because this is not a happy world or a happy planet, Mr Junker and Mark Rutte.

Where possible, ally with us to fight for human and decent refugee and migration policies. Rethink the Lisbon and Maastricht Treaties. Go down the route of a high growth society.

And — to finish — we need a vision, quick. Because it’s not just in America and Italy where the far right are setting the agenda. In the European [Parliament] election, next year, your main worry might be that the centre wins, that the conservatives win.

Well look what happened to Merkel’s party: it’s fragmenting. Look what happened to the Austrian Conservative party — it moved to the right. The real danger on top of us losing is that the right win the election.

So I want to float an idea. I’ve given up with making demands but I want to float and idea: Red-Red-Green might happen in Germany — if the two left parties have to save Merkel I think they should, personally, because this time they will have a say in what that coalition does.

But Red-Red-Green can save Europe. And we try to demonstrate that in the election. And here’s my suggestion.

We run a Red-Red-Green spitzenkandidat. It has to be a very persuasive person, speaking to the Greens, the far left, the progressive nationalist parties and to social democracy. And if we did that I think there’s enough progressive people in Europe to win.

Now what would that do? We’d no longer have a tax-avoiding, corruption-encouraging type of person in charge of Europe. But one of us.

What Corbyn did in the British election is he showed them literally that another world is possible — where a Social Democratic Party almost campaigns “against” its past. It’s tough to do. “We were wrong, we did let you down and now we are going to do something right.”

This was a dramatic moment in British politics and I think if we the wide left in Europe had the confidence to offer the European electorate one choice: neoliberalism, racist nationalism or the future… they would chose it. Thank you.