Listening to Gordon Brown (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

November 17, 2022   4 mins

The tyranny of globalisation finally seems to be waning, but the liberal Left aren’t too happy about it. Writing in The Guardian this week, Gordon Brown complained that “nationalism has replaced neoliberalism as the dominant ideology of the age”. For 30 years, he argues, economics drove political decision-making — now the tables have finally turned. But how is this a bad thing? Globalisation has done little for the common good of Britain.

In his book Blue Labour: The Politics of the Common Good, Maurice Glasman argues that globalisation is destructive because it prioritises global market economics over democratic national sovereignty. Brexit was an important step in rebalancing this relationship; the democratic nation state reclaiming lost ground to the forces of international capital. The book ends with a clever aphorism: “Workers of the word unite, you have nothing to lose but your supply chains.”

Nowhere is this tension between globalisation and the nation state clearer than on the football pitch. Consider, for instance, the supply chains of Glasman’s beloved Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris (France), Son (South Korea), Sánchez (Colombia), Højbjerg (Denmark), Gil (Spain), Royal (Brazil), Perišić (Croatia), Romero (Argentina), Sarr (Senegal), Bissouma (Ivory Coast). Asking what encourages these men to leave their home communities is like that famous Mrs Merton question to Debbie McGee: “What first attracted you to the millionaire Paul Daniels?” Son and Kane are on nearly £200,000 a week; Perišić is on £178,000. Premier League footballers may kiss their club badge when they score, but gone are the days when they would stay with one club their whole career. Now they follow the money — and the money frequently comes from the dodgiest of places: Saudi despots and Russians oligarchs. As Glasman has written: “If globalisation is understood as the process through which finance capital escapes the bonds of domestic constraints in order to maximise returns, then the establishment of the Premier League created globalisation in one country.”

Yet rejecting globalisation is not the same as shunning internationalism, a distinction Glasman makes clear. If the Premier League represents all that is bad about globalisation, the World Cup indicates something of the virtues of internationalism. Since 2007, England players have donated the relatively modest remuneration they get for playing for their country to charity. They play for the pride. Yet isn’t this precisely the sort of nationalist sentiment that many liberal globalists complain about, imagining only beer-swilling Brexit bigots with large bellies, foul mouths, and racist imaginations?

It is the kind of worldview derided by Gordon Brown. He continues on his tirade against nationalism: “The win-win economics of mutually-beneficial commerce is being replaced by the zero-sum rivalries of ‘I win, you lose’, as movements such as ‘America first’, ‘China first’, ‘India first’, and ‘Russia first’ threaten to descend into an us versus them geopolitics of ‘my country first and only’.” In other words, leave grown-up politics to those of us economically literate enough to understand things like gilts and the exchange rate mechanism. This sense of superiority coupled with the dismissal of national pride as a form of bigotry is precisely what led to Brexit. How did the soft liberal-Left become captured by the values of the global economic order? When did it lose faith in the nation state as a fellowship of free-born subjects whose commitment to their country is a way of expressing their commitment to each other, to what Glasman rightly celebrates as “the common good”?

I hold no candle for Liz Truss. She died at the hand of the ideology she was keenest to promote. But even her most ardent critics should not have been quite so sanguine about a prime minister of this country being brought down by market forces. Yes, it’s more than a little ironic: those who live by the sword die by the sword. But surely none of us want our democratically-elected representatives having to pay fealty to the global money gods. If Corbyn had won in 2019, the Left would have gone ballistic had he been brought down by the global economic order, and rightly so. We always have a choice. Better to be poorer than live with these sorts of chains.

The nation state is the ultimate backstop to democratic virtue. That’s why democratic nationalism is an inherently good thing — which, by the way, is not the same as the poisonous philosophy of ethnic nationalism. Likewise, economic nationalism is not some sort of “me first” chauvinism to which Brown refers, it is simply the idea that the way we order our finances should be decided in Birmingham and Bradford, not in Brussels or by international money markets. Wasn’t it Brown who gave us that speech, “British jobs for British workers”? What happened to that?

As it happens, Brown is a massive football fan. He went to his first Raith Rovers game when he was seven and soon started to sell programmes outside the ground in Kirkcaldy. He recalls questioning his father — a virtuous Church of Scotland minister — when he applauded the good play of Raith’s opponents. For all his talk of international cooperation, it seems he saw nothing wrong with a “Raith first” philosophy from the terraces of Stark’s Park. It’s an expression of solidarity not hostility to the other. And the same is true of “England first” in Qatar. Had Scotland qualified, I suspect even a determined internationalist like Brown would have felt a wave of pride. Of course he would. “Scotland first” just means: this is the team I root for — just as nationalism is about rooting for the people I live among.

There is no doubt the World Cup stinks of greed too. Qatar had almost no footballing culture when it won the bid to host it, not to mention its dodgy human rights record. But for all its many faults, what happens on the pitch during the World Cup represents a kind of nationalist fellow-feeling that is exceedingly rare in the “me first” culture of professional football. When you play for your country, you play for love. Those proud citizens of nowhere who denigrate the nation state as the crucible of so much of what is bad in our political life ought to turn on their television sets over the next few weeks. “Three lions on a shirt” is not some sort of gateway drug to fascism. On the contrary, national pride is precisely the reason that these teams come from every corner of the world to compete.

Giles Fraser is a journalist, broadcaster and Vicar of St Anne’s, Kew.