My new progressivism, part five - the world


  • Social brain

The good news, I guess, is I’ve done what I said two weeks ago; one week of postings about the political situation and one about new strands in progressive thinking for the post credit crunch world. Sadly, I’m not sure this kind of sustained musing works as a blog. It will be a relief (for me and my reader) to go back next week to what does; short colourful riffs about new research, a topical incident or talking point.

I have even more need for self deprecation given the risible heading for today’s blog; part five, the world! So, to minimise my embarrassment I’ll be brief. The question I have been pondering is what might be a distinctive new progressive approach to globalisation and international politics? What is there to add to libraries of books examining dilemmas like the trade off between national interest and global responsibility, or between promoting human rights and security versus respecting every country’s right to self determination? Nor is there much to be gained from adding to the condemnation of the kind of double standards that leads, to take one example, to the US and UK having close links to a state like Saudi Arabia while supporting the blockade of a Hamas regime in Palestine which (however we might deplore its stated aspirations) was elected in arguably the most free and fair elections ever held in an Arab state.

From a progressive stance the problem with globalisation is that it is unbalanced. Not just in terms of who benefits, but that the globalisation of certain domains of human activity – finance, communications, terrorism and organised crime – is not matched by the development of global civil society, global governance or global accountability. In the wake of the credit crunch in which unsustainable mortgage lending in certain states in the US precipitated a crisis now affecting every economy in the world, there is renewed interest in effective global regulation. Time will tell whether this enthusiasm will last once the crisis has peaked or whether such regulation will be effective.

Progressives should support attempts to develop more credible and powerful global institutions and regulatory frameworks. This should be an issue as well understood and widely discussed as domestic democratic reform. Global governance feels a distant and opaque subject, so our politicians and commentators need to make the issues and choices clear and to be explicit that the UK seeks to be a leading nation in advocating more effective pooling of sovereignty, even where this may appear to conflict with our short term interests. This is the direction Gordon Brown is taking, but he is not always the best as popularising issues.

We also, and these have been themes of mine all week, need greater innovation and citizen-led action. Ideas to strengthen global democracy have been around for many years. But now may be the time to get behind ideas like the United Nations Parliamentary Assembly or innovations like the global e-Parliament. New times require bold new thinking. What if the next Secretary General of the UN was elected globally with every nation being able to participate as long as it is willing to hold fair and free hustings and elections? This would surely create an interesting dilemma for a country like China; would its fear of democracy lead it to disenfranchise its people from an election which one of its citizens would presumably stand a good chance of winning?

Bold ideas at the level of global governance need to be reinforced by new civic initiatives that seek to create benign bonds and solidarities across national borders, there are important initiatives in areas ranging from the environment to inter-faith understanding. These too need to be supported.

And at the local and individual level we need ways of making the idea of global citizenship real and vivid. Every school should be twinned with schools in other parts of the world, not just as a symbolic gesture but so that young people learn from and through the relationship (I understand this is happening in some schools, anyone out there got more information) 

Municipal twinning, long mocked or reviled for its junketing potential, should be revived with the aim that any resident of a twinned community feels a genuine bond with fellow citizens in the partner locality in another continent. The internet makes all these ideas more possible and more exciting.

The ideal of global citizenship is has been around for a very long time and been confounded for just as long. The danger is that we don’t see that it was an idea that was awaiting its time and that the time has now come.

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