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The Right Mourn Thatcher; The Left, Any Sense of Direction

17/04/2013 15:12 BST | Updated 17/06/2013 10:12 BST

"Divisive" is the word that perhaps most accurately characterises reflections on the recent passing of Baroness Thatcher. But paradoxically, as David Cameron pointed out today, the day of Mrs. Thatcher's funeral, "we are all Thatcherites now". That is, politicians of all colours now broadly agree about free-market economics, keeping most industry private, keeping firm limits on union power, and so on. And in the current climate, they all agree about austerity too. The only difference being how fast and how deep.

To suppose this dramatic shift in the Left's economic policies came about through free choice would be simplistic. For the reality is that traditional Left-wing policies such as high taxes on the rich, on corporations, and so on have not been abandoned by choice, but by necessity. For in a world where capital and corporations move relatively freely across national borders, and can choose in which jurisdiction (if any) they pay tax, governments of whatever political colour have no choice but to keep top rates of tax low. Or to put it another way, they have to keep their nation internationally competitive and attractive to the wealthy. Tax or regulate the rich or the corporations too highly - that is, more highly than other countries - and you wave goodbye to thousands of jobs as they move elsewhere. As a result, whoever is in power has virtually no choice but to follow the same, narrow market and business-friendly economic agenda.

Perhaps that's why New Labour's Tony Blair was often said to be the best Conservative leader since Margaret Thatcher. Or, as the former Conservative prime minister, John Major, himself once put it, "I went swimming leaving my clothes on the bank and when I came back Tony Blair was wearing them" (The Week, 29 October, 1999). The Left, in other words, has moved to the right not out of choice but because its traditional policies became unworkable in a globalised world.

But the Left's emasculation is not the only negative fall-out of globalisation. For the global free-movement of capital has undermined the very roots of democracy itself. While the mechanics of free and fair elections may still exist, the quality of democracy has been subtly but substantively degraded, reducing it to what we might call pseudo-democracy; a kind of electoral charade in which, in terms of macro-economic and environmental policy at least, it no longer matters much which party we vote for, or whether we bother to vote at all. It's little wonder, then, that today's modern democracies are characterised, on the one hand, by chronic voter apathy and, on the other, by a resurgence of far-right political parties.

The global fight each nation is in to keep its economy internationally competitive has consequently created a political mono-culture that has rendered the Left, whether in the UK or elsewhere, directionless and with nowhere to go. Perhaps that's why Mrs. Thatcher still evokes such strong feelings from that side of the political divide. For it's the Left's present powerlessness which, perhaps most of all, is the source of its anger and frustration.

What the Left, the Greens, and anyone else seeking a fundamental change of direction need to understand is that we no longer live in a nation-centric age where individual nations and their governments had free choice, but in a world-centric age where the major issues of our time can only be dealt with through global cooperation. But this need not mean waiting (probably in vain) for the United Nations to save us. Rather, what's needed are new, transnational forms of political engagement which focus on international cooperation and which put citizens back in control. An example, here, might be the Simultaneous Policy (Simpol) campaign.

Could this and other similar campaigns be what politics looks like in a global age? Who knows. But mourning what has passed is just the first stage of a process; a process which culminates in the acceptance of one's new reality and a willingness to face life afresh with a new outlook and, very probably, a new way of doing politics too.