Opinion | It's not all rosy down by the Thames

BRIDGE OF WHYS: Why were Britain's gatekeepers missing during the Brexit poll?
BRIDGE OF WHYS: Why were Britain's gatekeepers missing during the Brexit poll?

We are in London to welcome the newest member of our family. This means long, fortunately sunny, days doing simple things in London’s southwest well away from the suits and briefcases of the city.

Each morning we push a pram down to the Thames and stroll along its ancient foreshore past new build apartments, old pubs and a delightful stretch of rowing sheds – with Porsches and Range Rovers parked outside.

The suburbs display this city’s prosperity as much as the grand and great boroughs of central London.

London has built its wealth through the centuries like no other city on the planet. Key has been the ways it has interacted expansively with the wider world.

Of course, London was central to the push of the British empire into the Americas, India, Africa and Australia and rewarded itself handsomely with the proceeds.

London played a leading hand in the roll-out of the industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries and then in the rise of the global economy in the 20th

Clues to London’s success come from a new book by Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt called How Democracies Die.

The authors argue two things are needed to marry economic success with political success. One is the presence of effective gatekeepers within the ranks of a nation’s political parties.

In Britain, reliable gatekeepers have steered the nation through the exuberance of extreme left and right wing political movements over the years. The grown-ups in the rooms of Westminster have invariably hauled their idiot mates back to the sensible centre.

The second ingredient is effective referees. Be it finance, trade, the law, or sport itself, London has led the formation and supervision of the rules of the game.

No nation has rivalled Britain as rule maker and referee.

So you’d think with such exemplary history all would be rosy down by the Thames.

Not so.

Sadly, Britain’s gatekeepers went missing during the Brexit poll in 2016 allowing extremists like Nigel Farage to fire up immigration concerns as a motivation for the UK to leave the European Union.

Until Brexit, the free movement of labour gave London access to Europe’s best and brightest.

Now, each day, Westminster wades deeper in the mire of removing the nation from Europe’s rules and institutions.

The tragedy unfolding is of a Britain tearing apart the platform of cooperation it was central in building in a post-war Europe determined to secure long-term peace and prosperity.

Where are the gatekeepers when they are sorely needed?

Meanwhile, Mr Farage will head to Australia in September in a re-run of his Brexit extremism. “Take back your country”, he will roar, once again firing up racism – with no interest in resolving the complex issues of immigration faced by most nations across the globe.

My hope is that Australian gatekeepers will call out Mr Farage for the poison he preaches.

The voice of our Prime Minister, the nation’s head gatekeeper, should be loudest in condemnation.

Phillip O’Neill is professor of economic geography at Western Sydney University.

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