Left and right, capital and labour, and our relationship to both may have been the best way to understand 20th Century politics and to chart solutions to problems. But those days are gone. Thatcher and Reagan changed the political landscape to make us all capitalists. Maybe we differ on exactly the extent of the role of the state, maybe we argue about the odd penny on income tax, or disagree about how tough to be on bankers – but those are not arguments of ideology any more.
Does that mean the big debates are finished? No. It just means that left and right are finished.
Tony Blair has an attractive alternative, using our attitude to globalisation as an organising framework. He sets it out in his memoirs…
It is what I call “open vs. closed.” Some right-wingers are free-traders, others aren’t. Likewise with the left. On both sides, some are pro-immigration, others anti-. Some favour an interventionist foreign policy; others don’t. Some see globalisation and the emergence of China, India and others as a threat; some as an opportunity. There is a common link to the free trade, pro-immigration (controlled, of course) interventionist and pro-globalisation political positions, but it is “open vs. closed,” not “left vs. right.” I believe progressives should be the champions of the open position, which is not only correct but also a winning position, as Bill Clinton showed conclusively.
Open or closed, that is the defining question today. And the revolutions sweeping North Africa and the Middle East are the perfect moment to decide which side you are on: do we recognise the interconnectedness of the world and use whatever economic and military power we have to help the spread of freedom and democracy, or do we turn away from the young men and women risking death to topple murderous regimes, using anachronistic arguments about sovereignty?
Last week, I stood with Libyan rebels outside Ajdabiya. Some had AK-47s. Others had World War One-era rifles. Some had machetes. Some were completely unarmed. Since then, they have surged forward to take advantage of French, American and British air strikes against Gaddafi ground forces. And since then they have been pushed back, unable to hold their gains with their pitiful collection of armaments.
Now, we have to stick to our “open” position and take the next step, arming the rebels and sending in advisers to train and advise the 3000-strong force on tackling Gaddafi’s bigger and better-equipped army.
The alternative is to turn our back on the brave people in Benghazi, and to ignore the reality of globalisation and our inter-connected world.