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Analysis
Cornwall, Brexit and globalisation

Cornwall, Brexit and globalisation

Pervasive uncertainty shaping US poll

by John Kornblum in Berlin

Mon 17 Oct 2016

When I was a child, my Cornish grandmother would try to stop my brother and me from horsing around by threatening to send us to the most far-away, isolated place she could think of. ‘If you don’t calm down, I’m going to send you to Mevagissey,’ she threatened, citing an old fishing village far out on the county’s coast.

Since then, the world has drawn closer together. Not only the fall of Communism, but the evolution of information technology and capital markets have connected the world in a new way. Now even Mevagissey is integrated into a tightly woven series of high speed IT connections which are reconfiguring the globe.

The cluster of towns around the Cornish hub of Camborne is becoming Britain's new Silicon Valley, part of one of the fastest growing high-tech clusters in Britain. The county’s growing 'California style' digital community was ranked second in the UK in terms of turnover growth, showing a 153% increase. This was second only to Southampton at 180%, and far exceeding London, showing 101%.

But there is a twist to all of this good news. This growth has been spurred, in large part, by a £132m project backed by EU regional development funds. More ironic is that Cornwall turned out a strong majority in favour of the Leave camp in the Brexit referendum, despite all that EU funding. Voters who were interviewed sounded not unlike Donald Trump, ‘We are just tired of those EU bureaucrats telling us what to do’. Cornwall is already asking the UK Treasury to make up lost funds.

This confusion is, at least in part, due to this global era’s most vivid characteristic – continuous, dramatic and occasionally destructive change. Too much thereof overloads us psychologically, affects our decision making, and impairs our ability to act rationally.

That is why the American election campaign is so interesting. Of greater concern than the actual vote is the feeling of anger in the US electorate which Trump has exploited. Trump is already claiming that voter fraud will decide the outcome.

He panders to the isolationist core which is always present in an immigrant society like America’s. Hillary Clinton sees greater potential in courting the winners in the new globalised society.

The confrontation will continue even with Clinton as president, and a significant realignment of American politics could be in store. It is likely that the conflict between populism and globalisation will spill over to Europe.

Neither candidate says much about the future. Substantive policy ideas relating to the benefits of globalisation never pass their lips. Each is increasingly abandoning substance of any sort in favour of personal attacks against their opponent.

One major difference is their assessment of the state of the nation. Here the parties have changed sides. Republicans traditionally celebrated 'all that was right' about America. Now they, and especially Trump, paint a dark picture of a collapsing, crime-ridden, poverty-stricken country overwhelmed by Muslim terrorists and immigrant rapists.

The Democrats were once America’s social democrats. Now they court the upwardly mobile minorities and the educated upper-middle classes. They have adopted the values of the new elites, and this message seems to work. Even moderate Republicans are steadily declaring against Trump, to Clinton’s benefit.

A sense of uncertainty remains. Things ‘just don’t feel right’ to large parts of society. We do not need someone who destroys the old order. What we need is someone who can make the new order work. So far neither candidate has proven that he or she understands what that means.

John Kornblum is a former US Ambassador to Germany and Senior Counsellor at Noerr LLP, and a Member of the OMFIF Advisory Board.

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