“I hear people say we have to stop and debate globalisation. You might as well debate whether autumn should follow summer. They’re not debating it in China and India. They are seizing its possibilities, in a way that will transform their lives and ours. Yes, both nations still have millions living in poverty. But they are on the move. Or look at Vietnam or Thailand. Then wait for the South Americans, and in time, with our help, the Africans.
All these nations have labour costs a fraction of ours. All can import the technology. All of them will attract capital as it moves, trillions of dollars of it, double what was available even 10 years ago, to find the best return. The character of this changing world is indifferent to tradition. Unforgiving of frailty. No respecter of past reputations. It has no custom and practice.
It is replete with opportunities, but they only go to those swift to adapt, slow to complain, open, willing and able to change. Unless we “own” the future, unless our values are matched by a completely honest understanding of the reality now upon us and the next about to hit us, we will fail. And then the values we believe in become idle sentiments ripe for disillusion and disappointment.
In the era of rapid globalisation, there is no mystery about what works: an open, liberal economy, prepared constantly to change to remain competitive. The new world rewards those who are open to it. Foreign investment improves our economy. Or take immigration. We know we need strict controls. They are being put in place, along with identity cards, also necessary in a changing world. But one of the most satisfying things about the election was that the country saw through the Tories’ nasty, unprincipled campaign on immigration. People who come to work and make their lives here make Britain not weaker but stronger.
But there is a lesson here, too. The temptation is to use government to try to protect ourselves against the onslaught of globalisation by shutting it out – to think we protect a workforce by regulation, a company by government subsidy, an industry by tariffs. It doesn’t work today.
Because the dam holding back the global economy burst years ago. The competition can’t be shut out; it can only be beaten. And the greatest error progressive politics can make is to think that somehow this more open and liberal world makes our values redundant, that the choice is either to cling onto the European social model of the past or be helpless, swept along by the flow.
On the contrary, social solidarity remains the only way to secure the future of a country like Britain. However, today its purpose is not to resist the force of globalisation but to prepare for it, and to garner its vast potential benefits.”