Imagining Markets 3rd workshop report- Cambridge, April 2016

David Thackeray, University of Exeter

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Churchill College, Cambridge was the venue for our final Imagining Markets workshop and we had a range of papers which considered various facets of how national economic identities have been culturally imagined. Another theme discussed at length was how markets are subject to the influence of a variety of external forces, limiting the actions of the entrepreneur. Attention focused particularly on the role of inter-governmental organisations, including those connected with the League of Nations and UN, the actions of the state, the politics of the citizen-consumer, and the role of international co-operation and competition in both the context of imperialism and decolonisation.

 

Hao Gao considered the contested ways in which the Chinese market was understood by the competing interests of the East India Company and free traders in the 1830s. Debate centred on the supposed ‘otherness’ of Chinese culture and whether or not the nation was peopled by ‘a highly commercial people’ amenable to the principles of free trade. Often the rhetoric of these debates was based on limited engagement with the everyday practices of British trade with China at the time.

 

Anthony Howe discussed the politics of growing monopolies, restrictions and exclusions in world trade in the nineteenth century, a period which is, perhaps paradoxically, often characterised as one of increasing globalisation. The paper considered how the growth of imperial inter-governmental organisations fostered the growth of subsidies. Prof. Howe then discussed the ways in which the growth of international trade bodies after 1900 challenged the growth of such practices.

 

Stephen Tufnell explored the politics of ‘inter-imperialism’, considering how southern Africa acted as a ‘borderland’ for American traders in the late nineteenth century. The United States took a prominent role in the development of mining on the Rand and gained influence in Transvaal business networks. However, it also took advantage of competing sovereignties in the region, evading imperial tariffs through trading via Portugese East Africa or re-exporting goods via the UK.

 

Marc-William Palen discussed the connections between free trade and international feminist peace activism in the early twentieth century. Particular attention focused on the importance of networks in understanding these connections. International links were facilitated by the development of the League of Nations and its affiliated organisations, as well as the adoption of free trade policies by leading civil society groups like the YWCA in the 1930s.

 

David Thackeray and Richard Toye explored the changing politics of international consumer activism in Britain between the 1940s and 1960s. The paper also considered how social surveys can help us understand the evolution of public attitudes towards Commonwealth and European trade. Consumer activism became noticeably more insular in focus after 1945 and attempts to promote the idea of ‘Buying British’ were challenged by the increasing globalisation of manufacture.

 

David Clayton discussed how Hong Kong was understood as a bastion of ‘Chinese capitalism’ from the 1950s onwards, attracting the interest of prominent neoliberals such as Keith Joseph. In turn, Hong Kong business bodies engaged in extensive PR activities in Britain to defend their activities and respond to the growth of protectionism by organisations such as the EEC. Such activities built on earlier UK-China networks, but in the context of the Cold War Hong Kong was now recast as a ‘Berlin of the East’.

 

Reports on the earlier workshops are available here and here. The AHRC Imagining Markets network has led to the development of the History & Policy Global Economics and History Forum. You can read about our aims and activities here.

History & Policy Global Economics and History Forum manifesto

David Thackeray, Marc-William Palen and Andrew Dilley

Cross-posted from History & Policy

This newly launched forum builds on the activities of the AHRC Imagining Markets network.

 

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Britain and Global Trade: Past and Future

Regardless of the outcome of the EU referendum Britain currently faces a period of significant upheaval in its relations with key international markets. In 1975 when voters last went to the polls on the question of membership of the EEC, the EU’s forerunner, access to the European Common Market was presented by the victorious Yes campaign as being key to Britain’s economic prosperity.[1]

By contrast, today both supporters and opponents of continued EU membership stress the importance of wider global economic connections as Britain seeks to develop new markets. For example, whereas the relative importance of the Commonwealth in British trade had declined sharply in the 1950s and 1960s the significance of this grouping in world trade has grown significantly in recent years, as was acknowledged in a Foreign Affairs Committee report published in 2012.[2] After all, this region contains two key BRICS emerging markets (India and South Africa) and countries which proved to have some of the most resilient economies in the world in the face of the post-2008 economic downturn (Australia and Canada). During the last twenty years the combined GDP of the Commonwealth has doubled. Lord Howell has gone so far as to describe the Commonwealth market as ‘the soft power network of the future.’[3]

The importance of the Commonwealth link is a long-standing one. Indeed, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries British settler colonies looked to develop ‘Greater Britain’ as an economic unit as other leading powers turned towards economic nationalism. This idea of ‘Greater Britain’ would manifest itself again and again in the imperial preferential trade demands of the Fair Trade League (1881-1891), the United Empire Trade League (1891-1903), and Joseph Chamberlain’s Edwardian-era Tariff Reform League. As Robert Reid, the Defense Minister of Victoria, put it in 1894 to his imperial audience in London: ‘We in Australia want to trade as freely with Canada and South Africa as Kent trades with Surrey, or Surrey with Yorkshire. With the introduction of restrictive tariffs and with foreign countries taking away our trade in all directions, our cry must be “Britain for the British.”’[4] The appeal of Commonwealth trade might appear in a very different guise today, but its importance as an alternative economic integrative path for Britain’s global trade identity builds on deep historical roots.

Today’s changes within Britain’s global economic orientation are far from unprecedented. Rather, as this example illustrates, they build on historic ties. If we look at the case of China too, there are long-standing debates about the country’s enormous potential as a trade partner and several key British companies can trace their presence in the region back to the nineteenth century.[5] More broadly, contemporary policy discussions about trade treaties such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership have their roots in earlier debates about economic protectionism and national trade policies.[6] In other words, the history of global market integration can and should inform 21st-century debates.

Accessing expertise

As the UKTI’s China Business Guide makes clear, understanding the historical roots of trade relationships, and the cultural sensitivities they entail, is vital to those who wish to expand trade today.[7] However, as the recent AHRC-sponsored ‘Making History Work’ report indicates, the role of historical case-studies in policy-making varies between government institutions. Departments such as HM Treasury and FCO have developed historical seminar series, although in other cases outreach to academics can rely more on ad hoc informal networks.[8]

High staff turnover within departments (with 2 and 3 year placements common within the Civil Service Fast Stream) adds a further barrier to developing an ‘institutional memory’ for planning within departments.[9] More generally, the recent debate surrounding theHistory Manifesto has further stimulated international discussion about the role of historians in providing long-term perspectives on economic policy.[10]

Traditionally, there has been a disjuncture between the long lead times of academic publishing and the working practices of policy-makers who require rapid responses to the changing geopolitical environment. However, the growth of online publishing and digital venues like History & Policy provide new opportunities to challenge these divisions in working practices.

Aims of the forum

The History & Policy Global Economics and History Forum aims to:

– develop a network connecting people in academia, business, think-tanks, government and the public interested in historical and contemporary issues in the politics of global trade.

– offer a historicised perspective on current debates in British and global trade (such as relations with emerging markets and the role of trade in international conflict), providing a platform for both established scholars and early career researchers.

– connect policy-makers, business, academia and the public through social media, opinion articles, policy papers, policy workshops, consultations, and broadcast and print media.

– provide a forum for the discussion of trade policy past and present, building on the existing work of History & Policy, and connecting with initiatives in widening participation in policy making.

 


[1] Referendum on the European Community (Common Market), Why You Should Vote Yes (1975), text available athttp://www.harvard-digital.co.uk/euro/pamphlet.htm

[2] House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, The Role and Future of the Commonwealth (2012), pp. 8, 36-9http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmselect/cmfaff/114/114.pdf

[3] Lord Howell, speech to 57th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference, July 2011,https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/commonwealth-the-soft-power-network-of-the-future ; See also House of Lords Select Committee on Soft Power and the UK’s Influence, Persuasion and Power in the Modern World (2014), pp. 13, 82-5http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201314/ldselect/ldsoftpower/150/150.pdf

[4] Reid quoted in Marc-William Palen, The “Conspiracy” of Free Trade: The Anglo-American Struggle over Empire and Economic Globalisation, 1846-1896 (Cambridge University Press, 2016), 224.

[5] See for example Peter Cain, ‘China, globalisation and the west: a British debate 1890-1914’, History & Policy (2009)http://www.historyandpolicy.org/policy-papers/papers/china-globalisation-and-the-west-a-british-debate-1890-1914

[6] Marc-William Palen, ‘The protectionist side of outsourcing’, History & Policy (2013) http://www.historyandpolicy.org/opinion-articles/articles/the-protectionist-side-of-outsourcing; Jim Tomlinson, ‘De-globalization and the search for economic security’, History & Policy (2011) http://www.historyandpolicy.org/policy-papers/papers/de-globalization-and-the-search-for-economic-security; David Thackeray, ‘History and future of British trade identities’, History & Policy (2014) http://www.historyandpolicy.org/opinion-articles/articles/history-and-future-of-british-trade-identities

[7] UKTI, China Business Guide (2012), p. 91.

[8] Catherine Haddon, Joe Devanny, Chales Forsdick and Andrew Thompson, What is the value of history in policymaking? (AHRC/ Institute for Government, 2015), p.4 http://careforthefuture.exeter.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Making-History-Work-Report-Final.pdf

[9] Ibid., pp. 10-12.

[10] Jo Guldi and David Armitage, The History Manifesto (2014), p. 12http://historymanifesto.cambridge.org/files/6114/1227/7857/historymanifesto.pdf; Similarly, see Hal Brands and Jeremi Suri, eds., The Power of the Past: History and Statecraft (2016).

Selling a new deal in Europe: what the Remain campaign can learn from 1975

David Thackeray

Cross posted from The Conversation

Just before the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community in 1975, Foreign Secretary James Callaghan worked hard to renegotiate the terms of British membership.

The concessions agreed back then are now widely seen as having had little lasting value – they related to imports of New Zealand dairy products and a complex correcting mechanism within the EEC budget. And yet, at the time they were popular. At the subsequent referendum, the UK voted two-to-one in favour of staying in the EEC.

While the context of the 1975 referendum was very different, the way the renegotiation terms were presented back then offers some valuable lessons for the people campaigning to keep Britain in the EU today.

However, the conduct of the campaign so far suggests that Prime Minister David Cameron may struggle to replicate Harold Wilson’s successful 1975 campaign to remain in the EEC in the face of opposition from his own government ministers.

Lukewarm on Europe

Opinion polls in early 1975 suggested that the electorate was lukewarm in its support for Europe. But the idea of renegotiating was popular, especially among Labour voters. It demonstrated that the EEC was willing to listen to Britain’s concerns and that Britain could lever authority within the European Community.

The renegotiation subsequently featured prominently in the manifesto of the Yes campaign. It was even mentioned at the top of the referendum ballot paper. Voters were instructed that “The government have announced the results of the renegotiation of the UK’s terms of the EC”. They were then asked: “do you think that the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (the Common Market)”.

By contrast, polling suggests that Cameron’s renegotiation has had little discernible impact on public attitudes to the EU. He spent weeks convincing fellow European leaders to allow the UK to limit welfare payments to EU migrants, among other measures, but voters appear unmoved.

Crucially, Harold Wilson was cautious in the way he presented the value of the new terms gained through renegotiation, in contrast to the more strident tone used by Cameron. Following the Labour cabinet’s majority agreement to support continued membership, Wilson stated in parliament:

I believe that our renegotiation objectives have been substantially though not completely achieved.

The Yes manifesto subsequently focused on the fact that many of Britain’s key historical trade partners in the Commonwealth supported its continued membership of the EEC, rather than promising significant change.

Wilson’s cautious approach arguably reflected the public mood of 1975. Support for European membership was tepid at best but it was often seen as better than the alternatives. Europe was often seen as a side issue to Britain’s domestic economic problems. Indeed, Europe did not often appear as a cover story in the national newspapers, even in the weeks leading up to the referendum vote.

Setting the tone

In 2016, the Remain camp has been widely criticised for the negative tone of its campaign. It has even been labelled Project Fear by supporters of Brexit. Yet there are parallels here with the approach of the successful Yes campaign in 1975, which also highlighted how Brexit would leave Britain in an uncertain geopolitical position.

Behind the scenes, civil servants involved in contingency planning for a potential Brexit often expressed anxiety about the logistics of leaving the European Community, for which there was no real precedent.

1975 indicates that focusing on the uncertainties of leaving the EU could be an effective strategy, not least as then, like now, supporters of Brexit are far from united in what alternative economic model they would follow.

And the Yes camps should acknowledge that the debate about the value of the concessions recently achieved by David Cameron is not likely to go away anytime soon. Michael Gove has already tried to question whether the package of reforms is legally binding, and Brexit backers are likely to continue to pick holes in the deal right up until the vote.

Wilson’s success in keeping Britain in Europe in 1975 suggests that it is essential for the Yes manifesto to acknowledge the limitations of the renegotiated terms as well as their value. In particular, as has been noted, it is important that each side provides independently prepared forecasts about how the different outcomes of the vote might affect immigration over the next ten years.