Europe

Gordon Bajnai

Gordon Bajnai was the prime minister of Hungary from 2009 to 2010.

Banjai took charge of Hungary in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis and lead the country through an incredibly difficult period in its history.

As prime minister, Gordon was the last socially democratic leader of Hungary before the country took a turn towards a more right-wing, populist and now largely autocratic regime. Gordon is now the chair of global investment firm Campbell Lutyens.

Gordon joined Misha Zelinsky for a fascinating discussion about, Brexit and the rise of populism, the role economics plays in politics, the march of nationalism in Europe and just how fragile democracy really is.

To my fellow Diplomates out there – if you’re enjoying the show, please be sure to subscribe, rate and review. It really helps! 

 

Misha Zelinsky:                  Welcome, Gordon Bajnai to Diplomates. Thank you for joining us.

Gordon Banjai:                   Thank you for your time.

Misha Zelinsky:                  No, thank you, but I was just seeking before as I was walking here there were just a couple Eastern Europeans in London, so you’re we’re really living the European-London cliché right now, but given that we are in London, and I’ll say it for the recording. We’re in London right now that obviously Brexit is top of the mind here. Where to from here? From Australia, it all seems quite mad. The clock’s ticking. Where do you think this is actually heading now as we head towards the cliff with the potential hard Brexit?

Gordon Banjai:                   Well, every country have their own special kind of populism. I think the special tailor-made populism of the United Kingdom is the hatred towards Europe, and that’s probably a result and it’s a lesson for other countries that if for 40 years politicians try to blame everything on Europe and take all the credit to themselves, that’s then sometimes people start to believe them. Brexit, but it’s been a very clumsy two years since the vote.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah, and it has been two. It’s gone quick.

Gordon Banjai:                   Quick, but two years after it’s still unclear what’s going to happen as we speak. We are just a couple of days from the first vote in the House of Commons about the deal that was negotiated by the British government, and they are not very likely to win that vote. The uncertainty will remain and be honest, in 80 days to go out to Brexit.

For people in business, or people with investments, or people with jobs in the UK, it’s a huge uncertainty with a very short time to react. It is clearly hurting the economy longterm. Whatever happens, it’s going to be negative for the economy, and then even in the best scenario, but there are further down downside scenarios that can hurt the UK better. But instead of, just let me give you two very interesting polls that I’ve read recently.

Within the voters, the committed voters of the Conservative Party, 54% would support no-deal Brexit, hard Brexit, and only 18% of last week, 18% was supporting the deal proposed by the Prime Minister. On the other hand, if you look at the whole country, the latest poll I have seen was 54% against Brexit, only 46% for Brexit. At the national level, it’s a turnaround-

Misha Zelinsky:                  From 52-48.

Gordon Banjai:                   52-48 yeah, the other way.

Misha Zelinsky:                  In 2016, yeah.

Gordon Banjai:                   Just still not the huge shift even [crosstalk 00:03:01], but it is a shift. It shows how far committed hardcore politics can go from the national mood if we believe both [parties 00:03:14].

Misha Zelinsky:                  Just going back to the original value, sort of touch on populars and then anti-European sentiment in the UK, but was that what drove the Brexit vote? Were there other factors? It’s been sort of debated to death, but what’s in your mind drove that vote, the leave vote?

Gordon Banjai:                   Every such political upsets or surprise votes combine many factors, but I think that the specific nature of these referendums, direct democracy, is that they give a chance for many different groups in society to express their protest by a single vote against something.

Misha Zelinsky:                  So something’s annoying you and you just vote, leave.

Gordon Banjai:                   So many people, I think, have felt disenfranchised, sort of inequality in the UK has grown significantly. It has always been one of the most unequal countries within the European Union. Inequality has grown significantly after the global crisis. That’s one factor. But that seems like a social problem, and still it transferred somehow into an identity crisis. That’s very similar to the US, where many of the disenfranchised Midwest voters who lost their jobs have turned into a kind of identity politics, who are supporting ‘America first.’

Misha Zelinsky:                  That’s right. Similarly, we see the Northern England vote to leave, which is where you’ve seen a lot of deindustrializations. It’s similar to Trump, the industrialization in the Midwest.

Gordon Banjai:                   That’s a global phenomenon, that populism, which is collecting the vote of those who are losing on the social economic agenda. Populism is often able, at least right wing populism, because this is just one form of populism. But right wing populism is able to collect that vote with an identity message. That’s very varying, and that’s very similar to what happened in the 1930s.

Misha Zelinsky:                  It’s interesting on the 1930s. Sometimes it’s seen as a very basic analysis, but do you think it’s similar? Is it 1929-1939 all over again, where you have a major economic event? The Depression is somewhere, the global financial crisis. Then the rise of communism and fascism, et cetera, across Europe. Is this the same thing again, or is it something different?

Gordon Banjai:                   Well, I think there are similarities. We are living in a different age and with different history experiences. But, yes. There are similar trends and rules applied here. First, there is a time lag between the economic crisis and the rise of populism. Second is the interesting switch from the social problem to the identity politics. Then the problem with identity politics is that it’s often cynical politicians use identity, be it the national or religious identity, or regional identity against a national identity. They use this to get into power, and to stay in power, they need to continuously escalate the feelings. They need to pump more steam into the steam room until it blows up.

The permanent escalation is an inherent feature of this kind of politics, and it usually doesn’t end well. That’s probably a commonality.

Misha Zelinsky:                  To put it mildly, yeah.

Gordon Banjai:                   If you look at the whole global politics today, the system is breaking down. One consequence of the global financial crisis, technological change, the inequality in the developed societies all ending up is that the status quo, as we have known, as you and I have grown up, you probably less than I, but we have both grown up in the Pax Americana, the system which was guaranteed or supplied by the United States. This system is breaking apart because the US is pulling up, creating a vacuum. Then some actors, often maligned actors, are occupying that vacuum, taking it over.

That’s also a result of this kind of populism. Also of the fact, if you take one step back and look deeper into what’s behind populism, is that following the great financial crisis, the legitimacy of the status quo in most developed countries and the global status quo has disappeared, that the political reserve that was keeping the system together was used as a result of not just the crisis, but the way the crisis was managed in that. The real issue is, if there is a next crisis, which is going to come soon, that political reserve will not be there to back up the system.

So, we are going into the next crisis with much less political reserves, much less legitimacy behind the status quo, and less tools in the policy makers, especially economic tools. [crosstalk 00:08:52]-

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah, [military 00:08:52] policy being so exhausted and fiscal policy being restricted.

Gordon Banjai:                   And in that context, Australia is doing quite well actually, compared to other countries.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Well, yeah. You wouldn’t know it though, looking at our politics, which is a little bit just as crazy as well. We’ve had multiples prime ministers in recent years.

Gordon Banjai:                   One experience that I can share, speaking from Hungary, from Europe, from this part of the world, is that there is a process of deterioration, gradual moral deterioration, but seems to be radically different today, will become the new norm tomorrow. Other things will appear radical, which the day after tomorrow will become the new normal. It’s a kind of amortization of centrist politics, ethics, and morale, play by the rules, checks and balances. Those countries which can stop this amortization early on are more fortunate than the ones who go through this long process, because it can always get worse.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Indeed. But before we get to the democratic question, I was to unpack a little bit about the drivers of populism. You talked about populism and inequality, the GFC as a trigger point, though inequality was probably on the rise before that, but middle class people really got wiped out during the global financial crisis. You became prime minister in Hungary during the GFC, so you understood this crisis very well. In retrospect, did governments do enough to protect ordinary people during the global financial crisis? Is economic equality the antidote to this sort of ethno right wing nationalism? Is more equality the answer to this? How do you see that?

Gordon Banjai:                   Fortunate countries who have enough room to maneuver, i.e., take on more, to survive the crisis, the deepest point of the crisis could, or are able to protect their middle class. But unfortunate countries like my own country, Hungary, was very indebted and not trusted by the markets with new credit. So we have to take a much bigger change and shift, more radical reform that my government was running. We just have to make sure that we survive, but there was not much room to maneuver in the social arena at the time.

But you know, crisis doesn’t have an ideology. There is no left wing crisis and right wing crisis. Crisis wants solutions quickly. Like military surgeon versus the plastic surgeon, you can’t measure by the millimeter. You have to cut 10 centimeters away from the wound to make sure that it doesn’t kill the patient. You have to act quickly and decisively and focus on the core areas to stop bleeding, so that’s what you do in crisis management, because that doesn’t have a philosophy.

To put it differently, in life you can’t choose what situations you get into. What you can choose is how you behave. If you are coming from a progressive center-left approach, you can try to manage the crisis, to stave it off, and still try to keep the texture of society together. One thing that we could learn, for example, from the Thatcher era in the United Kingdom is: if you let, in certain regions or geographies, the system of labor collapse, the social inept to collapse, then it can decades to recover. If you can hold together the middle classes, the systems of employment lower in the classes. If you kept people in jobs, or if you can keep them able to get back to jobs as soon as there is some rebounds, then after the crisis, there’s a chance to recover quickly. However, if you let it collapse under the weight of the crisis, then it maybe decays.

Misha Zelinsky:                  What is it then, do you think? We’ve had this crisis. and inequality is rising. Why do you think that the ring wing populism has taken hold much stronger, seemingly, than left wing populism of, say, redistribution, high taxes, more social safety? You’ve seen a lot more similarly nationalism style populism rise up, be it the UK, the United States, other countries in Europe. Why do you think social democrats are struggling to articulate a populism message on economics?

Gordon Banjai:                   I wish I had known the perfect answer.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Probably a lot of money to be made if you knew the answer!

Gordon Banjai:                   Interestingly in some countries, the progressive forces have done pretty well. If you think about, President Obama managed the economy pretty well in the crisis, and the US bounced back very, very quickly and very decisively. It’s one of the longest period of recovery, post-crisis recovery in economic history. There are some other good examples. Portugal has a progressive left government, and they are doing reasonably well, very well.

Misha Zelinsky:                  But Obama, of course, led to Trump, which is the question.

Gordon Banjai:                   But there are some other factors in that, because if you look at when Obama left, he was very popular. Maybe it’s also the campaign and the candidate explains part of that.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Absolutely, yeah.

Gordon Banjai:                   But clearly there is a phenomenon of identity politics, and typically progressive and left parties are much weaker identity politics than right wing parties.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Which is ironic, because it’s the ring wing that often accuses progressives of wanting to play identity politics, because they’re-

Gordon Banjai:                   [crosstalk 00:15:29].

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yes, but also through the promotion of women’s rights, or the promotion of minorities groups, is that somehow that is identity politics, whereas nationalist politics is identity politics as well. It’s quite ironic in that sense. We’ve talked a little bit about economics. One issue we haven’t really talked about here, and it’s probably that when you look at the Brexit vote as well, is this question of immigration. Because when you look at some of the countries that have become more populism right wing … Poland, it’s done quite well economically, really.

Gordon Banjai:                   That’s a perfect example of how contrary to what Bill Clinton said in 1991 or 1992 in the campaign, you remember is

Misha Zelinsky:                  “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Gordon Banjai:                   “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah.

Gordon Banjai:                   And everybody thought he had found the stone of wisdom. There are times when it’s the economy, stupid, and 25 years later, his wife long the election despite the fact that the US was booming economically. In Poland, there was a regime change despite the fact that Poland was the only country in Central Europe, or probably the only country in Europe, which was growing in the middle of the crisis as well.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Correct.

Gordon Banjai:                   It’s not just the economy, stupid. Sometimes it’s identity. If I need to find an explanation, the one that is closest to my heart and brain probably is that every democracy is built on middle classes, broad and stable middle classes. If the middle classes start to fear of losing their status, their stability, if they lose their perspective, their horizon looking into the future … If you think about, this is the first time in 70 years in the western part of the world, developed world, is that the middle classes fear that their kids will do worse off than themselves.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Interesting. There’s an interesting statistic on this where in the United States in the 40s, 90% of Americans believed their kids would do better than them, where today, it’s more like 40%. That’s kind of indicative.

Gordon Banjai:                   In some countries, it’s even less. If you think about youth unemployment in Italy [crosstalk 00:17:47]-

Misha Zelinsky:                  50% in some places, yeah.

Gordon Banjai:                   France as well. Youth unemployment and the general perspective is the horizon is looking down, not up. That’s a factor that explains the volatility, the anxiety of the middle classes. If the middle classes are trembling, then populism is on the growth. Just to quote you one famous English historian, “Revolutions are not made by the poor.”

Misha Zelinsky:                  [crosstalk 00:18:18].

Gordon Banjai:                   “It’s made by those who get disappointed.”

Misha Zelinsky:                  Hm, interesting. This anxiety around immigration, you’re seeing it Trump, you’re seeing it in Brexit, you’re seeing it in Europe. Merkel’s intake of Syrian refugees … Does immigration come up as an issue when the economy is doing badly? Or is it more of a cultural problem? Some people say, “It’s inequality and that’s what’s driving everything.” Others say, “Well, it’s the cultural changes that make people anxious.” Do you have a take on that?

Gordon Banjai:                   What right wing populists do is they transform the economic problem into an identity problem. They say, “Immigrants take your jobs,” although in fact, very often it’s automation or other forms of technology that take your jobs. Protectionism is the economic policy of nationalism. If you think about the trade wars that are revived in the world, and they are threatening, probably the single biggest geopolitical threat at the moment, is the US-China conflict, which goes well beyond a trade war. If you think about that, there is direct translation of identity politics into economic policy.

It’s interesting. I’m spending a lot of time in the UK. Since Brexit, there is a sharp downturn in immigration here. There is a shortage of labor in certain segments of the economy. But still, many people are opposed to immigration because they don’t see the cause of the problem and the problem together. Coming from the progressive side, we have this tendency of trying to explain all these technocratic policy different questions. In the era of populism, policy is not really a question. Policy is not the main topic of politics, it’s identity. It’s security. If you want to win elections from the progressive side, you need to develop your vocabulary, your politics, and catch up on those arguments.

Misha Zelinsky:                  And make people feel, rather than explain to them how something is going to work. Right?

Gordon Banjai:                   You have to find an answer to the issue of identity emotions, as well. Technocratic explanations make people feel … Let me take a step back to explain what I want to say. I think there was a consensus for a long time that these egg-headed technocrats are running these countries based on policies and complication explanations, which nobody understands, but they make the world run smooth, so it’s okay. The GFC just blew that up. Many people say, “Look, you egg-headed technocrats! You are corrupt. You played only for yourself. You messed up, so you were not that smart as you pretended to be. So why should we listen to you? Why shouldn’t we listen to ourselves or our own instincts? Or people who deliver, who cater for those instincts?”

That’s what populism is. You have to regain that trust, and it’s very, very, difficult. You have to find the language, and you have to find the right messages and as well as underlying policies.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Coming back to this question of democracy in Europe, after the fall of the Berlin wall, there was a kind of a democratic bloom. Everyone thought, “Well, these democracies are going to just be on the march inevitably.” Now we’re starting to see, you’ve got Poland, and Hungary, and Turkey, and Russia that are more or less autocratic. Then you’ve got Italy now that’s elected a pro-Russian government. How concerning do you think it is for the future of democracy in Europe right now? Is there any positives there to draw on?

Gordon Banjai:                   Don’t forget that democracy is a tool, not a means. It’s a means, not an end, to put it in proper image. It’s a means, not an end. I’m convinced that that’s the best means to the right end.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Sure.

Gordon Banjai:                   But for most people, they want a solution.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah, they want the outcome.

Gordon Banjai:                   The outcome, and democracy doesn’t deliver. Compared to that, they believe rightly or wrongly, I think wrongly, that other types of systems deliver better results. Then democracy can go out of fashion.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah. I think that’s a really good point. I say this to the people. In ’89, people didn’t sit there and read Jefferson, and then read Marx, and then say, “Well, what Jefferson’s argument is a lot more compelling, because I believe in liberal democracy.” They looked at the results, right? Middle class growth in wester countries was much better than the equality of everyone being poor in the Eastern Bloc.

Then how do democracies deliver for people? What should the focus be? Should the focus then be on economic inequality?

Gordon Banjai:                   I think it should be. Irrespective of whether it’s a democracy or autocracy or dictatorship, the leading elite tend to get corrupted unless they are very well checked and controlled. Democracy is the best way to control that, but even then, there can be a kind of self interest of people being … If the elite in any society don’t realize that they need to [keep 00:24:48] integrating people at the bottom of society, and keep broadening, stabilizing the middle class, and keep letting people into the middle class from the up, then they can destabilize themselves. It’s not a new idea. There was this Italian sociologist and philosophist, Pareto, who developed his ideas in the 1920s, 1930s. He said, “Societies, where the elite stops integrating, the best people from the bottom are breaking down sooner or later, and the elite will lose power because people are rebel against them.”

Misha Zelinsky:                  Now, that’s interesting. We’ve talked a little bit about countries, maybe, that people say, “Okay, Hungary and Poland. Then there’s autocracy in these countries, and Russians have always been a bit different.” You bring it a little bit closer to the main game, and England’s, the UK’s going through its things. But France, we’ve seen these really quite scary demonstrations in Paris with these yellow vest demonstrations against what Macron’s doing there. Democracy … He’s attempting a reform agenda, but it doesn’t seem that people are going along with him, and there’s been a violent backlash to that.

Gordon Banjai:                   First of all, France has great traditions in going out to the street, and sometimes being very violent.

Misha Zelinsky:                  That’s true.

Gordon Banjai:                   It’s not long ago. I remember in 2005 or 2006 in the outskirts of Paris. People were burning shops and cars similarly, so it’s not new. That’s part of the French political culture, which would not be part of other country’s culture. On the other hand, clearly Macron has a very difficult job to do, because he needs to reform a country which hasn’t really decided whether it belongs to the south or the north of Europe. France has this identity issue. It loves its southern identity, but it’s hard, but its brain knows that it’s better to be in the north.

So France, which is one of the biggest economies in the world, and is quite a good economy, I have to say, but it is need of some of these reforms. The problem is because of they’re relatively high in debt, it means there is little room to manoeuvre. If you want to introduce reforms, if you want to be more labour-friendly, if you want to reduce taxes to mobilize entrepreneurship, then you have to take away from somewhere else. While Macron was delivering much more than any of his recent predecessors on economic reforms, he hasn’t or couldn’t deliver on the social part to keep people happy, because he didn’t have the room to manoeuvre. So, I’m kind of understanding of his problems, but I think he realized he needs to change also style. The art of politics, it’s not just policies and facts and figures, but it’s style and explanation, and explaining people why you do things.

Misha Zelinsky:                  But the French are very important to the European project, because for a long time, Merkel was really the central figure in Europe maybe holding the show together through the crisis, but she’s now exiting and has gone out, taken a lot of damage on the immigration issue with the million refugees. But Macron was meant to be the man to lead a European renaissance. But with him under pressure, you can start to see the beginnings of what holds Europe together, what are the things that hold Europe together. Because you’ve got … We haven’t really talked about it yet, but I think we probably need to, which is the interest of Putin to very much break up Europe. There’s very much those links between Le Pen and the other nationalists in the European countries, linked to the Russian destabilization of those countries. What is the future of Europe in terms of holding itself together where Macron’s under pressure, Merkel’s gone, and the Russians are meddling?

Gordon Banjai:                   Well, there are two ways to assess this context: one is the internal, then the other is the external, naturally. The external dimension that Europe is under multiple pressure, at least three different directions: Russia, which is interested in weakening and sort of breaking up and negotiating directly in each country. And also the US recently, under the Trump administration, is interested to have a bilateral relationships. Then China, thirdly, which is interesting in maintaining the rules-based global trading system and access to the European market, but it is also trying to access countries one by one, because with many of the countries individually, each of these countries can have a much bigger, much weightier, much more sizeable player than as if Europe kept itself together.

Europe together is a 500 million market. Even after Brexit, it’s 460 million [crosstalk 00:30:34].

Misha Zelinsky:                  It’s a big-

Gordon Banjai:                   Still very big.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah.

Gordon Banjai:                   And it’s one of the first world’s, probably the world’s most valuable market if you look at number of people times GDP per capita. It’s the most exciting marketplace in the world. It has actually delivered on much of the promises of a single market. It is quite a single market in many aspect. But on the other hand, if Europe starts to utilize its weight of 500 million market, and starts to negotiate in a more assertive way with other powers … Says, “All right. You want access to my market? I want access to your market as well. You have to play by the rules.”

If Europe starts to develop as a military union … If Europe starts to behave as a financial union, which it hasn’t delivered greatly on … And if Europe starts to deploy united policy on migration, and starts to protect its external border, then Europe could be a much more heavyweight player in the global order.

Europe’s natural self interest is to organize itself as Europe and not as individual states. If you think about Germany, the largest country is Europe is 82 million people. What is it compared to China, US, or Russia? But if you look at Europe with 450 or 500 million people, that’s a size in which you can remain a player at the table. Because Europe’s real question, looking ahead 20-30 years, whether it remains part of the rule setting table or will become the rule taker. It will be quite a shift compared to its last 500 years.

You could look at Europe as a kind of Noah’s ark in the flood of globalization for the nations of Europe to survive. It’s quite [balancing 00:32:54] to jump off Noah’s ark. It’s reasonable to discuss about the direction, but to quarrel at the wheel is not very good, because the ark can capsize. [crosstalk 00:33:14]. You want to keep it together. You want to discuss what is the right direction to go, but you also want to act in an orderly and coordinated way on the ark, so as that you can land in the good course.

Misha Zelinsky:                  How concerned should European countries then be, as they go through their election seasons, about Russian interference? There’s suggestions there was interference in Brexit. There’s suggestions you’ve seen it with Le Pen and the yellow shirts. How concerned should European countries be about that?

Gordon Banjai:                   I think Europeans should be concerned about external influence. There’s a asymmetric situation, because maligned powers are looking at democracies and saying, “Where is the [oculus 00:34:11] here of democracies?” And that’s elections and the daily operation of democracy. Through social media and other means, and corrupting occasionally certain parties in these countries, promoting radical parties, they can destabilize democracy.

Those countries which don’t have this nitty gritty problem of democracy and free voting, they can exploit other’s weakness this way. That’s an asymmetric war. Europe and even the United States, in that sense, should react to this by protecting themselves, protecting their democracy, but not allowing any interference.

Misha Zelinsky:                  It’s a challenge, isn’t it, though? The thing that won the Cold War was the openness of the west versus the closed systems of the Communist Bloc, and the other countries. It seems almost that openness is being used against the west in a way that we’ve never seen before. With social media, through economic means, and others. And as a result, democracy lost a bit of the swagger, so to speak. So how do you make openness a virtue again, is the question. I’m not sure about-

Gordon Banjai:                   First of all, openness is inside a country or a region, externally, you have to assert your powers much more strongly. First of all, you have to create the community of democracies and coordinate against those who don’t follow those principles. Second, you have to punish bad behavior. Thirdly, people will tend to exploit the rules-based system unless you very stiff, very firm in protecting that system. What I see today, because many of these [maligned 00:36:28] actors are exploiting these internal divisions, and that can be lethally dangerous unless re-protected. The Australian election system so far has proved to one of the most successful in the world. I don’t know if you feel that way in [crosstalk 00:36:46], but look from the outside … For example, the mandatory voting system cuts out certain things like the fight for mobilizing. Because you don’t need to fight to mobilize voters, there’s a natural gravity to work for the can tre.

Misha Zelinsky:                  That’s right.

Gordon Banjai:                   That’s a big benefit of the Australian electoral system, which others could learn from. Because in many countries, think of the US. Many politicians are working on trying to keep voters from voting.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah, that’s right. Yep.

Gordon Banjai:                   Or asymmetrically, trying to mobilize their voters and keep others away. If you think about Cambridge Analytica and what they have done in the US elections, that was tactics about that. How do you keep the voters of Hillary Clinton away from voting while mobilizing the Trump voters? Those are nasty games. If you don’t have that problem, that’s already a better place.

Misha Zelinsky:                  The last thing I want to ask you about is: I’ve been thinking a lot about democracy recently. Over the summer I was doing some reading. It’s relatively new thing in human history, democracy. I take it for granted as something that’s always been in my life, but it’s really a blip in human history. What are the warning signs, do you think, that a democracy is headed down to the wrong path into an anocracy  or an autocracy? What are the things that we should be watchful for?

Gordon Banjai:                   Right. Great question. I love it. First, endangered middle classes, the destabilization of middle classes. Second, polarization of politics, political language, which you mentioned. Behavior. Third and most important probably is media. If the mass media, and that includes social media, is losing its standards, ethical standards, or it gets under the influence of malign actors … If mass media cannot be held to ethics, or it loses its balance, the balance coverage, then if private or public forces get control of a significant part of the media, then media turns into propaganda.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah.

Gordon Banjai:                   And the propaganda, you can brainwash people into very stupid things. Think about the 1930s Germany. Adolf Hitler couldn’t have done in 1934 what he was doing in 1939, simply because of the Goebbelsian propaganda and brainwash. Then after media come the other institutions, independent institutions. The independence of courts, prosecutors, police, the control over political parties, checks and balances. These are very important things. Democracy is not simply the will of the majority. It’s also the ability for power to change hands if the majority changes its mind. It’s the right to change your mind and change your leaders.

It’s not only about the will of the majority. It’s also the protection of minority. Even when there is a strong majority, democracy’s about probably three years from now, the other side will have a majority. You have to maintain the probability. That’s what will keep power in control, in check.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah, J. S. Mill talked about the tyranny of the majority, right? So you need to make sure that the majority is not necessarily-

Gordon Banjai:                   [crosstalk 00:40:36] countries, in many countries in central eastern Europe, in other countries, developed countries. That’s a phenomenon that’s only possible if there is a strong control of media and propaganda, because that facilitates, that’s the anteroom for dictatorship.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Well, thank you so much. One final question that I ask all my guests is if they’re in Australia, I ask them about international people. I know you’re a huge fan of Australia, regularly attend, but if you’re having a barbecue at your place, what three Australians, alive or dead, would you invite along?

Gordon Banjai:                   My childhood hero, Angus Young from AC/DC.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Very good!

Gordon Banjai:                   In his shorts.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Playing the music, yeah?

Gordon Banjai:                   Yes. Prime Minister Keating. I’ve heard a lot of good things. I’ve never met him, but he seems to be a very smart and-

Misha Zelinsky:                  He’s more of an opera man than an AC/DC man, but he’ll-

Gordon Banjai:                   It will be an interesting group around the barbecue. Thirdly, I have a good friend who I think very highly of as an investor from my close profession. Mark Delaney from Australia, super.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Very good.

Gordon Banjai:                   He is a guru of investing, and I look up to him for his investments.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Well, you’ve got investing, politics, and AC/DC. It’d be a good combination at your barbecue. I’d like to be a fly on the wall at that. But anyway, look. Thank you for joining Diplomates. It’s a punny name, and it also implies that you’re my mate. I don’t often get to claim former prime ministers as a mate, but just so you know I am.

Gordon Banjai:                   [You’re welcome 00:42:19].

Misha Zelinsky:                  But also, Hungary’s not a country that gets a lot of discussion in Australia, but my assistant Google, I did some research. There are 100,000 Hungarians in Australia, so I’m hoping that at least some of them listen and I can build an audience off the back of you as well. Thank you so much for your time. Look forward to having you back someday in the future.

Gordon Banjai:                   Thank you very much, and greetings to all of those Hungarians in Australia.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Thank you. Including our current treasurer, who is a Hungarian and a Jew. His family fled after the … Josh Frydenberg is, but shout out to Josh from Diplomates. I doubt he is someone who listens to my podcast, but hopefully he listens sometime. Thanks, Gordon.

Gordon Banjai:                   Thank you very much.

 

Professor Simon Hix

Professor Simon Hix is the pro-Director for research at the London School of Economics and is the chair of Vote Watch Europe. 

Professor Hix is a globally renowned expert on EU politics, democratic institutions, parliamentary voting behaviour, political parties and elections – and to prove it he is the author of over 100 books and papers on these topics. 

We had a fascinating discussion about Brexit, where to for Britain as the deadline for a deal approaches, what drove the Leave vote itself as well as the worrying rise of right wing nationalism in Europe.

 

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT

Misha Zelinsky:                  So, Simon Hix, welcome to Diplomates, thank you for joining me.

Simon Hix:                              You’re welcome.

Misha Zelinsky:                  And I should say, for the recording, that we’re in your rather salubrious offices here in the London School of Economics. So thank you for having me along.

But given that we are in London and this is a political podcast, what better place to start than Brexit. So, as an Australian to a Brit, what the hell is going on? Because back home it looks kind of crazy. Is it as crazy as it seems?

Simon Hix:                              It is crazy. You know, I was away for a period over Christmas and came back and it’s the same old, same old, in the sense that we still don’t know where we’re heading. So, we’ve got a vote next week in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Misha Zelinsky:                  And that vote is for … ?

Simon Hix:                              This vote is for Theresa May’s deal. So she’s done a deal with the EU which is called a withdrawal agreement. It’s an agreement that sets the terms of the UK leaving the EU and the terms are, essentially, how much money do we still owe as part of the divorce deal? What are the rights of the citizens in the UK and UK citizens on the continent? What happens to the Irish border, between Northern Ireland and the Republic? Republic, of course, is going to stay in the EU, Northern Ireland in the UK, of course is going to leave the EU. And then a transition arrangement for two years while we negotiate the long term deal.

So she signed the deal which is more or less the deal that we knew was going to be signed. It has to be ratified by the House of Commons for us to be able to leave on the 29th of March. So the 29th of March is the deadline bias.

So if they don’t pass it through the House of Commons, we leave on the 29th of March without a deal.

Misha Zelinsky:                  A hard Brexit, so to speak. Yeah.

Simon Hix:                              A hardest of hard Brexit. So, leaving without a deal has potentially enormous consequences. We’ve got one wing of the conservative party saying, No, leaving without a deal is fine. We’ll be fine. A lot of them are very Libertarian. They have a view that this is about creative destruction. Bring it on. And we’ve gotten to the point where you’ve got this left wing of the Labour party saying, Actually a no deal would be a good thing because it would be a crisis of capitalism and then they’ll be a collapse of the government. And then Labour will get elected and we’ll be able to implement socialism. And then we’ve got the right wing and the Tory party saying, No deal will be a good thing because there will be a crisis of socialism and then we’ll be able to slash and burn the British state and they’ll be this new Singapore-on-Thames Nirvana that we’ve wanted.

Misha Zelinsky:                  It’s almost horseshoe politics with the extreme left and the extreme right, both agreeing on the outcome.

Simon Hix:                              They can’t both be right, obviously, right?

But either way, they think there’s potential disaster. Most people accept that without a deal, it will be end of Just-In-Time production supply chains which could be the collapse of manufacturing. Tariffs and quotas on agriculture, most of our agriculture produce is exported to the European market.

So I think the planes will not be able to take off and land. You know, they’ll be a tail backs at Dover. They estimate a 10 minute delay on every truck going through Dover within an hour, leaves to a 30 mile tail back. So you can imagine what that cumulatively…

That super market shelves will start to empty out. The NHS is worrying about running out of drugs because their main supplier is in Holland. A no deal scenario is a disaster. Most people accept that. Most economists, most people who work in the supply chains will tell you that. All the business interests will tell you that.

What does it mean for the citizens rights? Nobody really knows.

So, it’s potentially disastrous if we leave without any kind of deal. But the right wing or the Tory party are using this as a threat because they don’t like the deal that she’s done. They feel the EU has got a better arrangements out of this. So we still don’t know where we’re headed. If they kick out the deal next Tuesday, which they probably will, all bets are off. We have no idea what’s going to happen after that. And the EU is willing to say, Bring it on. If there’s a no deal, you guys are going to suffer more than us.

Misha Zelinsky:                  That’s interesting because this sort of concept that Europe would get a better deal, why would they? I mean, there’s no incentive for Europe to encourage other countries to leave, I should think, right? So if you’re the European Union, you want to make it as hard as possible I would have thought.

Simon Hix:                              Yeah. So there’s kind of two sides of it. So one side, I don’t think it’s the EU wants to be seen to be punishing Britain, although there are definitely voices that say that. Particularly you hear that on the left in France or the left in Germany, where they blame the Anglo-Saxon bankers for the financial crisis. And so they say, It’s about time the Brits got their comeuppance. Sort of thing.

But the general view on the continent is they don’t want Britain to leave. We’re a major economy. We’re important for exports and imports.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Defense.

Simon Hix:                              Defense. For the whole credibility of the European project globally. The EU project in general is weakened if Britain leaves. So there’s a general sense of it’s a shame that the UK is leaving. So they don’t want to punish Britain, but equally, they’re saying, why should we give Britain a particularly good deal? You chose to leave. We have to protect our interests and our interests are the continuity of the single market that we’ve worked our butt off to create a continental scale single market with free movers and good services and capital within it. Why would we undermine that? Just because you guys want to cherry pick the good bits of this and not be responsible for some of the obligations that come with being part of this single market? Why should we give that to you? We don’t give that to anybody else?

So it’s not about punishing Britain, it’s about maintaining the credibility of the EU and holding the EU together. And of course, for the economic relationship between Britain and the EU 27 is pretty asymmetric. In London, these politicians here are very arrogant about Britain. We’re the fifth largest economy in the world. We’re this great global trading power. English language is the lingua-Franco globally. London is the world capital of the world services sector. Yada, yada, yada.

50% of our trade is with the EU 27. 15% of their trade is with us. That British trade with the EU 27 is worth about 20% of our GDP. Their trade with us is worth about 2% of their GDP.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Right. That’s interesting.

Simon Hix:                              And if you talk to trade economists here at LSC, they’ll tell you that those kind of asymmetries ultimately will predict what kind of bargain you get in a trade deal. The EU’s got far less to lose from failing to agree to a deal than the UK has.

Misha Zelinsky:                  That’s interesting.

Simon Hix:                              So the UK, the deal that gets done is bound to favor the EU. So, I remember a former student of mine is in South Korea, she’s in the Korean diplomatic academy and she’s one of their experts on Europe. And I said to her, hey, Wun, how’s Brexit look from east asia? She says, well, Simon -”

Misha Zelinsky:                  About as good as it looks from Australia, I’d assume.

Simon Hix:                              Right. Exactly. So it’s kind of interesting for an Australian audience to hear her say, she said, look, it doesn’t matter if you’re the fifth largest economy or the 10th largest economy, like Korea, or the 15th or the 20th, if you’re not the US, the EU or China, you’re a regulation taker. Those three markets make up 50% of the global GDP. 50% of global trade and goods and services. And they’re bargaining deal with any… It’s a reason why none of the three of them have got deals with each other in trade. They’ve all got bilateral deals with everyone else in the world. Because they say, ‘You want access to our market? Here’s the set of rules. Take it or leave it. You don’t want to accept these rules? You don’t have access.

And so that’s the way the US negotiates trade deals. That’s the way the EU negotiates trade deals. Why would it be any different if you’re the fifth?

So, Japan is the largest economy that’s accepted that kind of an arrangement. Canada, South Korea, those three countries. So Canada and South Korea both have trade deals with the EU and with the US. And the deals they have are essentially agreeing to apply European or American rules.

So for example, Canadian beef farmers have two fields. One field with cows destined for the US market and one field with cows destined to the European market.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Interesting.

Simon Hix:                              And the cows destined to the American market are pumped full of hormones, so you get these big fat cows destined to the American market. And the kind of skinny, vegan cows destined for the European market. You know, have to follow European Phytosanitary standards. So they’re regulation takers.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah. So, the Brexiteers are probably going to get mugged by reality then in the end.

Simon Hix:                              Of course they are.

Misha Zelinsky:                  But so, leaving aside whether or not you get a better deal, there’s a deal on the table. They’re talking through the politics of it with it going to a vote, it’s interesting to me a lot of the discussion is around May versus the Brexiteers within her own party. And the Parliament is bigger than one party or bigger than one faction.

Simon Hix:                              Well yeah. And she doesn’t have a majority.

Misha Zelinsky:                  No.

Simon Hix:                              Because [crosstalk 00:08:48]have majority.

Misha Zelinsky:                  But there’s not a lot of discussion about Labour in all of this and Corbyn. So I’m curious to get your take in all of that.

Simon Hix:                              Yeah so Labour, like the conservatives, Labour is also split on this. It’s split into three groups. One group are the very pro-European group that would like to cause as much problems with this ratification as possible. With the hope that there’s a second referendum and they overturn and stop Brexit altogether.

Misha Zelinsky:                  And these are the sort of Blair-ite types.

Simon Hix:                              They’re the kind of Blair-right wing of the party.

Then there’s another group, which is a more radical left group. They call them the Lexiteers. The left wing Brexiteers.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Right.

Simon Hix:                              Who have never liked the EU. They saw it as a kind of capitalist project. They want us to get out of the EU so they can have a sort of socialism in one country. Pull up the drawbridge. British jobs for British workers. Subsidized British industry. You know, they’re living in some kind of…

Misha Zelinsky:                  The old socialized, left, yeah.

Simon Hix:                              So, in a sense, I like to describe the two radical versions of Brexit are the Tory radical version of the Brexit as the Singapore-Thames. And the Labour radical version of Brexit is Venezuela on trend.

Misha Zelinsky:                  That’s good.

Simon Hix:                              That kind of epitomizes where they think they’d like to take us. Most sensible people don’t want either of those outcomes.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah.

Simon Hix:                              And Corbyn comes intellectually from that wing of the party. He’s never liked the EU. He thinks that we want to leave. To give these guys a bit of credit, though, a lot of people who did vote for Brexit in the North of England, you know, a lot of these cities in industrial decline are former Labour voters. So a lot of Labour seats have big let it, leave majorities in them. And the Brexit voting coalition in the referendum were two groups. It was kind of wealthy rural southerners who were just centerphobes who never liked Europe because they want Britain to go back to Empire.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah.

Simon Hix:                              Empire 2.0 is what they want. And cities in industrial decline. Post industrial cities, very angry voters who are really angry at the ruling elites in the south, in the establishment. And they’ve never liked… In a sense, voting’s really the EU’s symbolic vote against what has happened in those communities.

So I’ll give you an example. So in Sutherland in the Northeast of England, the major employer in Sutherland is the Nissan car factory. Employs about 300,000 people. It’s the largest car employer in the UK. 70 something percent of their production goes to the EU single market. Just-In-Time supply chains, meaning that any delay in their supply chains will massively increase costs. So Brexit will increase those costs because they’ll be customs checks and stuff. Sutherland voted to leave the EU and the majority of those car workers in Sutherland voted to leave the EU.

So Lisa Nandy is a Labour politician and she tells a story about being asked during the Brexit campaign, being asked by the management of the car factory to come and talk to the shop floor workers because the management was saying, we’re totally opposed to Brexit because of the risks to the factory. Can you come and explain to them that if they vote for Brexit, they could all lose their jobs.

So she stands up and she tells the story to a packed room full of production line workers, saying, you do realize that Just-In-Time production will end. They’ll be tariffs and quotas on your cars. So, Nissan, which is a global company, will probably decide to end production here and move the factory to France or Slovakia or somewhere else. And you guys could all be out a job. And she says, one guy put up his hand and he said, we’re not stupid. I’ve been working here for 20 years. Don’t you think I know how Just-In-Time production lines work? Don’t you think I know where our cars are going? He said, you know, with new technology coming along we’re not expecting to have this factory here in 20 years anyway. It’ll be robots doing this stuff. We’re not voting for Brexit for our jobs. We’re voting for Brexit for our kids and our grandkids. And to send you guys a signal that you’re not listening to what has been happening around here in the Northeast of England.

Misha Zelinsky:                  That’s interesting.

Simon Hix:                              And that’s a real challenge for the center left. And so there’s an element wing of the Labour party which is very sensitive to the fact that although the kind of cosmopolitan youth, younger voters, the Londoners, are opposed to Brexit, a lot of their core voters are saying, you’ve got to deliver this.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah. So we’ll get to the vote itself because I want to pick up on some of the things you’re talking about but just to stay with the Labour party, just very quickly, so Corbyn, one of the things that I find interesting is that there’s a real enthusiasm for Corbyn amongst young people. The so called Corbynistas.

Simon Hix:                              Yeah.

Misha Zelinsky:                  They would be remain people.

Simon Hix:                              They’re all remainers. In fact-

Misha Zelinsky:                  How is he getting away with being probably a Brexiteer in disguise whilst-

Simon Hix:                              It’s really difficult. And I think he can get away with it because they’re in opposition.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah.

Simon Hix:                              And so he’s able to oppose anything the government proposes. So in a sense, what he’s asking for, if you actually look at what he’s asked for from Brexit, what he wants is the UK to carry on applying EU social regulation standards, EU environment standards, frictionless trade, to try employment first Brexit, he calls it. So you want to keep as much manufacturing as you can in the country. But that’s exactly what May’s deal is. You can’t put a piece of paper between the deal that she’s negotiated and what actually Labour are asking for.

So they’re really only voting against this symbolically, to try and create a crisis. To try and bring down the government in the hope that there could be a general election.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Right. But is there any way, I mean, if you’re May, just to put on your sort of… Is there a way for her to turn the focus onto Labour in the vote and I mean, far be it from me to give advice to the Tory party, but it just seems interesting to me that rather taking all these seating internally, if there’s a way to force the opposition-

Simon Hix:                              But with the government’s opposition dynamics of British politics…

Misha Zelinsky:                  Government always owns the result, right?

Simon Hix:                              Yeah. And the opposition, nobody’s going to blame the opposition if this fails. They will blame the government, blame Theresa May. So they can get away with playing these kind of games. And if we end up with a no deal Brexit and that is a disaster for Britain, and it could be absolutely disastrous. There’s kind of a typical British sense of, oh, it will be alright on the night. People will figure it out. People come to their senses. There’ll be a managed no deal. People will just figure it out. The French aren’t going to be crazy enough to stop lories going through the tunnel. And the Dutch are still going to be sending us medicines for the NHS. Come on, people will still allow British airlines to land in Paris and Berlin or whatever. It’ll be all right on the night. That’s the sort of general attitude of the British public.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Big gamble.

Simon Hix:                              I think it’s a very big gamble.

Misha Zelinsky:                  While I speak of gambling, let’s talk about the vote. And correct me if I’m wrong, you were given the rather difficult task of being an advocate for the remain voters. You went around the country. There were a bunch of experts who went around as the go would say, so called experts. Maybe you’re one of the so called experts people speak of.

Simon Hix:                              I was, yeah.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Tell us about that.

Simon Hix:                              So no, I was part of a group of about 14 academics, political scientists, economists, lawyers, historians, who were funded by the British Economic and Social Research Counsel, so the main funding of the social science body in the UK, to be experts. We were meant to be neutral. We weren’t advocates on one side or the other. We were meant to be able to, you know, media could call on us and we’d go on TV or the radio or go on public platforms in local communities to referee debates or to be someone there who could correct facts, this kind of stuff.

And it was modeled on what had happened during the Scottish referendum campaign. They had this program for the Scottish referendum campaign and the perception was that it worked really well. They’d had a bunch of academics who could come on and sort of neutralize the craziness of some of the claims people were making.

Misha Zelinsky:                  And the remain sort of came from behind in that situation to remind of that.

Simon Hix:                              Yeah, exactly. So, we’d go to different parts of the country and it was a real eye opener going to places. I remember going to Spalding in Lincolnshire. Lincolnshire, east coast of England, very agricultural community. Lots of new Polish and Lithuanian fruit pickers and agricultural labor going into that town.

We were called by the local newspaper, can we come for a town hall meeting on Brexit. Can they send some experts? So three or four of us went out there. Difficult place to get to in the middle of nowhere on the east coast of England. We went London to Peterborough, a bus and a train and anyway. It was hours together. Just a sense of how isolated this place is. You know Britain’s a small country, it’s a really isolated place out there.

And the local town is sort of boarded up and the only places open are these Polish shops and very flat agricultural land. And, you know, about 150 people show up at this town hall meeting and it’s about 80% pro-Brexit. And we’re standing on the platform and whatever we say, they ask questions, and whatever we say goes down like a lead balloon.

So, you know, one guy said, well why do you guys think Brexit will be bad for the British economy? And my economist friend says, well, you know, 50% of trades for the year, about 20% of our GDP, 20% of the whole size of our economy. If there’s a reduction in trade that’s a reduction in the size of our economy. And no matter how different people mold it in different ways, the estimate is it will be between 2 and 8% of our GDP. A reduction of between 2 and 8% of the size of our economy. And the guy said, that’s your fucking GDP not mine. What should I care?

My initial thought was well that’s a stupid thing to say but then I thought actually, no, that’s actually a really clever-

Misha Zelinsky:                  Wouldn’t change the economy of that town for brief-

Simon Hix:                              Really! And what he’s saying is, it’s been shit here for a long time, you guys are gonna take the hit for this.

And someone else said, I’m a farm laborer and since all these polls have been coming over, my wages have gone down every year for the past three years and I bet you lot have had rise haven’t you? And it went round like that.

And then someone else said, I’ve been waiting for a counsel house and it used to be a four month waiting list and now it’s a two year waiting list.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Because the immigrants.

Simon Hix:                              Yeah. And someone else said, you know, my daughter’s at one primary school and my younger son was gonna go to the same primary school but now there’s no places left in the school so I’ve got to drop my daughter off in this school drive ten minutes to drop my son off at this other school and then I’m late for work and that’s cause all this, and all the places are full of the bloody Lithuanian Polish kids!

And we’re on the platform going, this isn’t EU’s fault. This isn’t, you know, these are choices the British government has made about not investing in public services in areas where there’s been large immigrant populations and they’d say yeah but no one’s gonna listen to us. Doesn’t matter whether we vote Labour or whether we vote conservative, you guys are not gonna listen to us, but you’re bloody gonna listen to us if we vote for Brexit.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Interesting. So out of this experience did you think the Leave vote would succeed? We’re asking ourselves after the fact now obvious, but on the night did you, after that experience did you think it was gonna go that way?

Simon Hix:                              Yeah I did. So the opinion polls are really tight actually and most people weren’t trusting the polls. The opinion polls have been so wrong in the 2015 general election-

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah that’s right.

Simon Hix:                              Nobody-

Misha Zelinsky:                  They predicted Labour was gonna win.

Simon Hix:                              Yeah, exactly and so nobody was trusting them in 2016 and so everyone was saying the opinion polls are obviously wrong and so then they were making up their own version of what they thought was gonna happen. So most people thought the remain was gonna win easily, the betting markets, the currency markets, the prediction models, everyone-

Misha Zelinsky:                  For the record I also said it wouldn’t happen so…

Simon Hix:                              Yeah so I was doing some consulting in various different places and I was showing opinion poll data to say this is too close to call. It really could go either way. And my experience of going ’round to different parts of the country suggested that was the case. So it didn’t surprise me on the night.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah, okay. That vote itself had kind of, Brexit kind of reset the map for politics and we’ve seen a lot of things happen since like Trump. What does it tell us more generally, you’re a political scientist, what does it tell us more generally about politics?

Simon Hix:                              Yeah, I think we are seeing a lot of advanced democracies, a realignment with politics. A realignment away from… for a long time politics in the post-war period was pretty simple straightforward. Lower income people voted for the left. Left wing parties wanted redistribution of wealth, higher taxes, creation of public services. Higher income people voted for people on the right. Right wing parties wanted to cut taxes, cut public spending, liberalize markets, and so on. And that was the sort of standard politics for most of democracies for much of the post second world war period.

We’re now facing the situation where it’s largely an education divide and an urban rural divide. It’s much more geography driving it than anything else. So you’ve got cities that are globalizing cities. They’re creating growth in financial services and creative industries, film, fashion, art, design, media, tourism, higher education, and so on.

The returns you get on education are massive so the economic divide is really driven by whether or not you’ve got a degree or not so getting university education massively increases your economic opportunities. And the economic opportunities gap between those who have university certification verse those who’ve not has grown massively and the economic opportunity gap has grown between cities that are growing, that is fast growing cities, and other cities in industrial decline and then aging rural populations.

So you’re getting a kind of anti-establishment feeling which is a coalition of these aging rural populations feeling like what is happening to my country? It’s not the country I remember or the country I grew up in.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah. Sort of pathos nostalgia.

Simon Hix:                              Yeah, exactly, and often that’s around race and ethnicity and immigration and a backlash against gender equality. For example, interestingly, after the Gilets Jaunes demonstrations in France-

Misha Zelinsky:                  We’ll get to those.

Simon Hix:                              They set up a bunch of citizens assemblists out of the Gilets Jaunes and you know what the very first demand that came from those citizens assemblies was? Abolish gay marriage.

Misha Zelinsky:                  So that was them… interesting.

Simon Hix:                              Which is more kind of symbolic politics about the kind of rolling back, nostalgia, world’s moving too fast and so there’s that aging rural population.

And then you’ve got cities in industrial decline and there’s very angry, and sometimes this is young people, sometimes it’s older people, particularly men who used to be in industry, collapse in industry, decline in industry, and that coaliltion, that antiestablishment coaliltion is a new force that’s very much drawing support for populous parties and as far as they’re concerned mainstream centre parties are basically the same. They represent different postcodes of the capital city. So the Tory party, pre Theresa May, represented Notting Hill and Notting Hill set and the Labour party represent isn’t. And if in France the French socialists represent the Left bank and the French conservatives represent the Right bank of Paris. That’s what it felt like to the rest of the country.

Misha Zelinsky:                  And it’s just consensus around free trade, open markets, free movement of capital.

Simon Hix:                              Yeah, open liberal immigration policies-

Misha Zelinsky:                  And there’s some differences on the margin around how you sort of dice up the pie and that type of stuff?

Simon Hix:                              Yeah, exactly and whereas mainstream center right leans a bit more towards financial service interest and big business interest and the mainstream center left leans a bit more towards creatives industries and the new economy and higher education interest and this kind of stuff but neither of them really care about rural populations. Neither of them really care about cities in industrial decline.

Misha Zelinsky:                  It’s interesting that this sort of rural urban divide and the question of people being told what’s in their best interest and I think that’s interesting about the way that economists and people that are in the political game for the last 30 years are probably looked at the macro stories and look how good it is, right? But the thing about trade is it destroys and distributes unevenly.

Simon Hix:                              Trade and immigration. Both have distributional consequences. So in aggregate we know that trade is good for the economy in terms of increasing GDP, increasing opportunities, and so on. But you don’t look at what the local consequences of that are. So there’s loads of research now that looks at the China shock where you can locally, what has been the effect of globalization.

Misha Zelinsky:                  China between the WO in 2001.

Simon Hix:                              Yeah, exactly. David Autor is an american economist and a bunch of European political scientists, what they’ve done is for every region, for every local region, they’ve worked out what is the employment in each sector, what percentage employment is there in each sector in that region, and what is the exposure to global trade of that sector. And so you can work out what has been the globalization effect regionally. And what we know is that the bigger the globalization, the bigger the negative globalization effect regionally, the bigger the vote for populous parties.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Interesting, isn’t it.

Simon Hix:                              And the bigger the vote for Trump. The bigger the vote for Brexit in the UK and the bigger the vote for Le Pen in France, for the populous in Italy and so on and so on.

So that’s one. The other one is this distributional consequences of immigration. Again we know that immigration is great for the economy. It makes… new skills, new ideas, new resources, cheaper public goods, cheaper public services. On average immigrants our net contributors to the economy, they’re not recipients of money. The usual story.

Misha Zelinsky:                  All the facts.

Simon Hix:                              All the aggregate level facts. But increasingly what we know is that there’s local distributional consequences in two senses. One is an economic one, one’s a cultural.

The economic one is in certain sectors of the economy, wages have fallen dramatically as a result of immigration. In the UK for example, it’s agricultural labor and the building trades. Why? Because they’re cash.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yep, hard to regulate.

Simon Hix:                              They’re cash-based economies. All the sectors where there’s a minimum wage and the minimum wage is enforced, immigration has had no effect on wages. But it’s had a huge effect on agricultural labor in the building trade.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Interesting.

Simon Hix:                              Everyone’s got a Polish plumber and everyone’s got a Lithuanian fruit picker.

Misha Zelinsky:                  And they’re rural areas as well.

Simon Hix:                              And they’re rural areas. That’s where there’s been real wage competition.

And the other one, then, is competition for public services and that’s usually disproportionate. Cities of where there’s immigration being sucked into cities, public services are being cranked out and a lot of these rural areas nobody’s thinking about increasing school capacity. Nobody’s thinking about building another classroom in a primary school or you’ve got to provide more surgery spaces in the local doctor surgery. Nobody’s thinking like that. So the local population feels the squeeze in public services.

And then, of course, there’s the cultural aspect. A lot of these places have never seen immigrants before and that takes time. That’s a legacy. We forget too quickly… So my grandmother grew up in Northwest London and where she grew up in Northwest London it was very white at that time and then it became very big Indian population immigration in the 1950s and 60s.

Misha Zelinsky:                  How quickly did it happen?

Simon Hix:                              It happened in the space of about a decade.

Misha Zelinsky:                  They say the speeds often effective, right?

Simon Hix:                              Yeah, the speed. But at that time there was really vehement… I remember my grandmother being very racist, you know. Ugh they’re all moving into, why are they moving into my neighborhood type thing. And now of course we’re in London and nobody thinks twice about it, right? So we forget very quickly our own recent experience of what it was like with being whites with new immigrants.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Oh it’s a similar story in Australia as well. So before we get off Brexit because I want to step into Europe but there’s a lot of talk about second vote. I’m quite nervous about the consequence of second vote because after everything that we’ve just covered about the anger and telling people what’s what, there’s a sense to me that you didn’t quite get it right and we’re gonna give you another shot at it and I would be very concerned, and I’m curious to get your take of it, seems to be very concerning to suddenly flip and be 52/48 remain. It’s almost like it’s been stolen from people.

Simon Hix:                              I absolutely agree with you. I mean I agree with you for two main reasons. One, the call for second referendum ignores, actually, the history of Britain’s relationship with the EU which is that we’ve always had a semi-detached relationship. We’ve always been reluctant members. We weren’t members of the single currency, we weren’t members of the Schengen border-free zone, we were always semi-detached.

Misha Zelinsky:                  We had a deal.

Simon Hix:                              You know, and sooner or later we were gonna have to make a choice as the process of European integration is moving forward. Sooner or later we’re going to have to make a choice. Are we inside it or are we outside. So it made sense to have a referendum on this and the referendum was going to make the decision so you can’t pretend that history is now fundamentally changed so now we really want to stay and we want to sign up to the whole thing. Of course we don’t. So that’s the first thing we’ve noticed.

The second thing is, you’re right, it’s incredibly condescending so I get annoyed with someone of my arch remainer friends who seem to think that going around and telling people you’re stupid and you’re a racist and you’ve made the wrong decision and you’re a xenophobe and you were bought by Russians. You think that’s gonna persuade people to change their mind?

Misha Zelinsky:                  Hasn’t really worked in human history so far.

Simon Hix:                              The third thing is it would get really, really nasty and I do really worry about what the consequence is. I’m genuinely worried about violence, political assassination even. I mean we had a murder in British politics, Jo Cox was murdered in the 2015 general election campaign by a radical right extremist. The Labour MP in the north of England. I wouldn’t be surprised if we have that kind of thing again. It’s not to say that we should be scared about, it’s more the, there’s a legitimate angle which is that this was an antiestablishment anti-elite vote. It’s very dangerous in democracies to fuel an antiestablishment anti-elite movement. That’s when you really can get very dangerous types of things happening and I don’t want to fuel that and I do think there was legitimate reasons for people to vote for this.

I think my experience of traveling around the country, people were not thinking about this lightly, people were massively mobilized. They thought about this very carefully. And a lot of people say, well they weren’t considering the economic interest. Well whenever people have elections and make choices in elections, there’s lots of things that go into their mind when they walk into the ballot box. For some people it’s symbolic, for some people it’s careful economical interest of their family or their personally, for some people it’s national identity. There’s lots of things that go into what influences why people put the x where they do on a ballot paper and so that’s no different in a referendum. Why would we think it should be any different in a referendum? And it’s completely legitimate.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Now, talking about that nationalism, and you’ve got another hat, you’re the chair, I believe, of Vote Watch. It’s a European project so you’re very, obviously, across European politics. Kind of want to get your take about how loudly are you about what we’re seeing other countries across, you know, Poland, Hungary, Turkey, not in Europe but peripheral to Europe, obviously, and now Italy. More and more, sort of right wing-

Simon Hix:                              France.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Well, yeah. Like you said, more of these National upsurge but not only in opposition. They’ve taken control of governments and dismantling democracies.

Simon Hix:                              That’s right. What we’re seeing it-

Misha Zelinsky:                  Is this 1929 to 39 all over again or is a bit more complex?

Simon Hix:                              Too early to tell in that sense. So it’s true that what we’ve seen is part of this realignment of politics, it’s the rise in support for these populous parties and the populous coalition is the same coalition we’ve been talking about behind Brexit.

And almost every country in Europe now has a populous movement of some kind. Some of them a bit more radical than others but no matter what country you talk about there’s a party where it’s… I don’t throw around populism lightly so what I mean by populism is a party that says that we represent the voice of the people against the establishment. And it’s very antiestablishment type view, very simplistic policy responses. A classic mainstream party moderate their promises because they know that there’s certain things that it’s difficult to deliver on and you can’t promise this and promise that. Where as populous have no constraints so the populous will say we’ll shut down immigration. Populous will say we’ll stop globalization.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Simple responses to complex problems.

Simon Hix:                              In Italy, the populous parties say we’re gonna have a flat tax and introduce universal basic income.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah, increasing spending and lower taxes.

Simon Hix:                              Right.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Great plan if you can pull it off.

Simon Hix:                              It’s that kind of pub politics, I think of it, and it’s very attractive at the moment, particularly post economic crisis and we’re growing in equality, people saying, well what the hell. Let’s just try this. Let’s just go for these guys. And it’s a wakeup call for the establishment.

Misha Zelinsky:                  But once they get control of the-

Simon Hix:                              So here’s the real test. The real test is in ten years time when we look back, there’s two possible outcomes. One outcome is you get, you know, democracy is a safety valve. If there are deep divisions in society surely Democratic institutions and elections are vehicles through which these things get thrown up and then we as mainstream establishment, we have to address this stuff.

One version is mainstream parties respond, we come up with new policy responses, there’s big infrastructure investment, we try to address some of these regional and individual inequalities that’s developed, we try and think about how to create new sectors of the economy, try to think about what do we do to address these inequalities that have come out of globalization. How do we address issues of social integration of immigration. If those things get addressed then they’ll be a restabalization of politics.

Another alternative world is these populous come to power and instead of just addressing these things they start to dismantle democratic institutions.

Misha Zelinsky:                  And you’re seeing that in Poland.

Simon Hix:                              And they say we represent the will of the people and you get a narrative which is popular in Hungary which is I’m not a liberal democrat I’m a iliberal democrat because I represent the will of the people. The will of the people is the majority, why should you guys constrain what the people want? Why should you judges and you media and you other political parties, why should you constrain the will of the people?

Once you gauge that narrative that starts to get dangerously close to the types of politics we saw in the 1930s and so we don’t know yet how robust our institutions are to that because you’ve not seen it. These post-war institutions we’ve built, they’re pretty robust so far and they’re relatively new in centuries in Europe in Parliament in Hungary and that’s why I think the judiciary and the media are quite easy to be attacked. Italy is the test case. You’ve got the populists now in Italy. How robust are the Italian institutions to what will be? And Le Pen could win in France or Le Pen’s niece, she is the rising star.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Let’s talk about the French because I think, maybe it’s an arrogance of major Western countries that some of the Eastern European countries have been on the periphery and maybe they’ll never really develop democracies anyway and maybe they’re experiments, France is a serious economy, it’s a serious country, it’s a serious democratic history.

Simon Hix:                              Nuclear power, the rest of it.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Right. How worried are you about France? If France were to become a notably autocratic nationalist sort of nation, I mean that’s the European project almost over, right?

Simon Hix:                              It is over. Yeah. They were saying you can’t have France without Europe, you can’t have Europe without France.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Right.

Simon Hix:                              So Le Pen almost won. The Nationalists in France have been growing in support.

Misha Zelinsky:                  But doesn’t feel like they’re losing momentum.

Simon Hix:                              They’re not losing momentum, they’re gaining momentum. France is the epitome of the rotation of this politics. Macron represents the global elite, Le Pen represents the will of the people against the global elite. That’s the narrative.

Misha Zelinsky:                  And the concern I had when he came to power was that, didn’t strike me as the man for the times because the inequality story, the cultural disconnect story, he’s just want to double down on all the things that people are pissed off about.

Simon Hix:                              To be fair to him, France is a bit particular because France…

Misha Zelinsky:                  They always have this history of-

Simon Hix:                              Yeah, but not just that. The structure of the labor market in France is quite particular because they’ve got highly regulated markets and you have a whole insider outsider problem meaning that a lot of young people are priced out of jobs because highly regulated labor markets make it very difficult for companies to take on new people knowing they may not be able to keep them in place in 6 months or 12 months or 18 months. So you get very, very high youth unemployment in France and so that’s very different to… So a lot of young people actually were supporting Le Pen in this election.

So Macron in that sense was saying I want to liberalize the French economy in return for big infrastructure spending. In return for big spending on new technologies like digital environment, trying to shift the economy away to new technology so in a sense it wasn’t your classic doubling down of globalization it was more of a, we’re not gonna stop the world, we’re not gonna stop globalization, we’re not gonna save manufacturing in Europe. We need to think about a new economy. How are we gonna build this new economy. So in a sense, I saw his agenda of coming to power, his policy agenda and some of the people around him were really thinking creatively about how to think about what is going to be a new economy or a new society in a globalized world in an advanced democracy. That’s a step ahead and that’s exactly what I want mainstream politics to be thinking about doing.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah, absolutely. He had a lot of hope-

Simon Hix:                              The problem then is he only managed to get the liberalization stuff passed without the other stuff so then it just looks like he becomes a baby Thatcher. It looks like he’s doing what Thatcher did in Britain in the 1980s. And it looks like, well, we’re going even more down that path and so then you get the Gilets Jaunes movement, you know, the yellow vest-

Misha Zelinsky:                  The yellow vest.

Simon Hix:                              And so these guys, again it’s an odd coaliltion, the bulk of the movement are rural small town suburban and rural areas, older voters, and small towns in decline, farmers, farm related producers, social conservatives, quite Catholic, and then a small wing are kind of angry, urban, militant, radical, left anarchists. They’re the guys smashing up the Arc de Triomphe and the shops in Paris but the bulk of the movement is this quite conservative movement so it’s a kind of…

Misha Zelinsky:                  People often get hijacked with movements.

Simon Hix:                              They do. And so the radical left has hijacked the movement but the movement itself is quite a socially conservative movement.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Interesting. And one thing we haven’t talked about, we’ve touched around it, but Russia. Every nationalist movement you look at is Putin’s not too far away from it. What’s his game here?

Simon Hix:                              Yeah so Putin is trying to metal. I don’t buy the Putin is driving this but I do buy that Putin is benefiting from all this and so if there’s anything that he can do that makes life difficult for the mainstream establishments so for example Brexit. The allegation is that there’s Russian money that got into the leave campaign and there’s Russian data hackers that were used to try and identify who to target with the leave campaign and so on and so on and so on. With Brexit-

Misha Zelinsky:                  When these votes are so tight though, it’s interesting.

Simon Hix:                              It could make a difference but lots of things could make a different.

Why does he want Brexit? So there’s this sort of macro level thing, anything that destabilizes western Europe is good for Russia-

Simon Hix:                              Yeah. But there’s a micro level thing which is that Britain was the one country at the table in EU that was really pushing to maintain sanctions against Russia, right? With Britain off the table he reckons he’s got much more chance of getting the EU to back down on some of its sanctions. So there’s some really very concrete short term interests related to this. And so he’s playing both of those games. There’s often very concrete interests related to gas, relating to sanctions… The sanctions are hurting and with Europe staying together and the European Establishment have really held together with sanctions and those sanctions really are hurting Russia. So he really wants to try and loosen that so this is the game he’s playing which is not just the big geo-political one. It’s really concretial to economic interests.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah, because he’s got the foot on the throat with these sanctions.

Simon Hix:                              Absolutely.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Interesting. One thing I want to get your take on, and we’re coming to the end now and you’ve been very generous with your time but right wing populous. I mean there’s this anger and very sort febrile political environment but why is it that the right wing populous are winning and you’re not seeing… in the 30s you had the communists popping up, the socialists, and all these social democrats, FDR, they’re nowhere and this ethnonationalism, this right wing populism is winning everywhere.

Simon Hix:                              And it’s interesting-

Misha Zelinsky:                  And inequalities there, I mean it’s there in the data.

Simon Hix:                              Similar circumstances in Latin America with the left wing populous so great, big impact of globalization, big economic inequalities between globalizing cities and rural populations. I think it’s largely to do with the fact that these are often middle-aged or older voters that are losing from these changes and so it’s not necessarily younger voters. So apart from what I’ve just said about France, younger voters tend to be the ones to be educated, younger voters and they seem to be the ones to support more radical left ideas. Whereas older, these are more socially conservative voters. They already got their protected interest. They’ve already got, you know, state pensions. Often they’ve got houses and they’ve paid off these debts and so this is largely driven by social values that they don’t share and so national identity.

In fact, 1930s when there was a major economic downturn and we saw votes shifting mainly to the radical right rather than to the radical left. In fact, throughout history of democracies, there’s a nice paper by simple economists looking back over from 1918 to the present looking at major economic downturns. Major economic downturns tend to lead to swing votes to the radical right or to the left and that’s what we’ve seen over the last ten years in Europe.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Interesting.

Alright well one last question I ask of all my guests and this might not wash so well with a Brit but with Australian audience-

Misha Zelinsky:                  After the last series, I’m not sure we’ve even won a game. We’ll need some sandpaper. Australian gets asked who they’d love to invite as internationals to their barbecue. So for international audience I’d say, which three Australians would you invite to a barbecue. Alive or dead, I’ll give you that.

Simon Hix:                              Oh boy, that’s a good question. Well Misha, he’d have to be one of them.

Misha Zelinsky:                  No, no, you can’t count me. Even thought the show’s called Diplomates and I know you as a mate now, obviously, so I couldn’t tap into the cult of Simon Hix online but…

Simon Hix:                              That’s a good- I’ve never thought about that.

Pauline Hanson.

Misha Zelinsky:                  As a political scientist, no doubt on that one.

Simon Hix:                              As a political scientist.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Well, okay, she can make the fish and chips.

Simon Hix:                              Yeah, I think it’d be interesting to know what makes her tick.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Yeah.

Simon Hix:                              Rudd, I think.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Kevin Rudd.

Simon Hix:                              This is getting interesting.

Misha Zelinsky:                  And the third one would probably… the swimmer with the huge feet. What was his name?

Simon Hix:                              Ian Thorpe.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Thorpe.

Simon Hix:                              So Simon Hix, Ian Thorpe, Kevin Rudd, and Pauline Hanson. Wow. I mean, people like trying to get Kevin to stop speaking but… that would be an interesting barbecue to say the very, very least.

Simon Hix, thank you so much for joining the podcast and it’s been fantastic and I look forward to chatting in the future.

Misha Zelinsky:                  Have a safe trip home, cheers. Bye.