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.
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.
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.