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Thoughts on the British elections and the rise of nationalism

I wasn’t planning to write about the British elections until a friend asked. I’m not confident that I’m right about my conclusions, but here are some disjointed thoughts in no particular order.

1. I hate the parallels between US & UK politics: You get Thatcher-Major. We get Reagan-Bush I. We get Clinton. You get Blair. We get Bush II. Blair does double duty as the British Bush II. You get a group of mendacious, xenophobic, nationalist leaders. We get Trump.

2. Labour’s loss wasn’t just Brexit. It wasn’t just Corbyn. It wasn’t just the party moving to the left. Some of those might have been positive for Labour. It was very complex. The best strategy from here and the right thing to do from here aren’t obvious. I don’t know what’s best. I think a hasty decision would be a mistake.

3. The election only shows a limited amount about people’s Brexit. The 43.6% who voted Conservative were at least comfortable with Brexit, and many Brexit supporters probably voted for other parties as well. So, support is probably still about half the population–depending on what Brexit deal is in question.

4. Brexit was a great opportunity for democracy if people hadn’t made it about who beats who. It appears to be a voting paradox: a majority for Brexit, a majority against any possible Brexit deal, and a majority against no-deal Brexit. It would have been a great opportunity to discuss voting-paradoxes, and to use rank-choice voting to see if there was something we could call a majority preference. Even Corbyn didn’t suggest going that far in his effort to find a middle ground and to use democracy to resolve the impasse.

5. The recent election, like every US & UK election shows what’s wrong with first-past-the-post voting. The rules were in place long before the election. I wish people had talked more about changing them before the election. Some US states are doing that now. It could be a significant step toward real democracy in the USA. But getting the money out of politics is the biggest thing we need to transition to democracy. Maybe not as big a problem in the UK

6. But a significant portion of Brexit support was xenophobia, auslander raus thinking. I don’t know whether trying to be a voice of reason like this would have sold.

7. Nationalism is a much bigger trend right now than just the US-UK parallel (e.g. Brazil, India, Russia, Turkey, Philippines, etc.). All nationalists have to be opposed until they’re defeated. They are not for the nation. Nations prosper when they work together. Nationalist leaders prosper when they make their people afraid. Not when their people thrive. Leaders who do not put humanity first, do not really care about any religious, ethnic, or national group no matter how much they say their putting them first. Those leaders put themselves first.

8. I wish I could enjoy being in the opposition more than I do. I find it hard to take heart as part of a group of billions of underdogs opposing this worldwide trend. I don’t know what works. But I know that nationalist and especially mendacious leaders have consistently failed to deliver in the long run. Leaders who don’t use fact-based reasoning, can’t get the outcomes they want. We don’t know how much damage they’ll do before their failure becomes obvious and how much of that damage will be irreversible. But they will fail eventually. That will be an opportunity. And that’s a reason for optimism.

X. Perhaps, my active support for the Universal Basic Income (UBI) movement keeps me optimistic. UBI is still far from the centers of power, but after watching it stagnate for a long time, I’ve watched it gather strength for more than 20 years. I’ve enjoyed all of the little victories of that movement whether mainstream politics was getting better or worse at the time. So, I guess the lesson is that a good way to keep your morale up is to have something you’re working on that is making progress however small.

About Karl Widerquist

Karl Widerquist has written 981 articles.

Karl Widerquist is an Associate Professor of political philosophy at SFS-Qatar, Georgetown University, specializing in distributive justice—the ethics of who has what. Much of his work involves Universal Basic Income (UBI). He is a co-founder of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network (USBIG). He served as co-chair of the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN) for 7 years, and now serves as vice-chair. He was the Editor of the USBIG NewsFlash for 15 years and of the BIEN NewsFlash for 4 years. He is a cofounder of BIEN’s news website, Basic Income News, the main source of just-the-facts reporting on UBI worldwide. He is a cofounder and editor of the journal Basic Income Studies, the only academic journal devoted to research on UBI. Widerquist has published several books and many articles on UBI both in academic journals and in the popular media. He has appeared on or been quoted by many major media outlets, such as NPR’s On Point, NPR’s Marketplace, PRI’s the World, CNBC, Al-Jazeera, 538, Vice, Dissent, the New York Times, Forbes, the Financial Times, and the Atlantic Monthly, which called him “a leader of the worldwide basic income movement.” Widerquist holds two doctorates—one in Political Theory form Oxford University (2006) and one in Economics from the City University of New York (1996). He has published seven books, including Prehistoric Myths in Modern Political Philosophy (Edinburgh University Press 2017, coauthored by Grant S. McCall) and Independence, Propertylessness, and Basic Income: A Theory of Freedom as the Power to Say No (Palgrave Macmillan 2013). He has published more than a twenty scholarly articles and book chapters. Most Karl Widerquist’s writing is available on his “Selected Works” website ( More information about him is available on his BIEN profile and on Wikipedia. He writes the blog "the Indepentarian" for Basic Income News.

The views expressed in this Op-Ed piece are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the view of Basic Income News or BIEN. BIEN and Basic Income News do not endorse any particular policy, but Basic Income News welcomes discussion from all points of view in its Op-Ed section.

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