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Anarchy in the UK?

The Labour Party has elected a new leader – one that gives the Sanders movement in the Democratic Pary hope. His name is Jeremy Corbyn, aka “The exact opposite of Ed Miliband.” Unlike his predecessor Corbyn is resolute, visionary, and a completely unabashed member of what we could call “Old Labour” – the party that existed before Tony Blair turned it into something American Democrats would recognize, especially during the (Bill) Clinton years.

Does this mean Sanders and his progressive left supporters will take the Democratic Party? Will history repeat itself yet again and see Britain lead the way for the US? Like nearly any good political question, the short answer is “Yes” but the long answer is “No”.

Who do you think you're dealing with? Jeremy Corbyn, new Labour Party leader.

Who do you think you’re dealing with? Jeremy Corbyn, new Labour Party leader.

Corbyn’s election with a 60% majority on the first ballot is a watershed in Labour Party history. He has never been in leadership before, consigned to the “back bench” during his 32 years in Parliament. When it started to look like he might win the poll of Labor registered voters across the UK, party stalwarts and leadership lined up blasting him as “unelectable” and that he would “spell disaster” for the party.

Hearing that from Ed Miliband, who led the last drubbing at the last general election, probably only helped Corbyn’s case.

This was the first time registered party members voted in a “one person, one vote” system that opened up leadership to all of the Labour Party. The old guard released control and the party faithful summarily responded.

The US tends to import a lot of interesting trends from the UK.

The US tends to import a lot of interesting trends from the UK.

Here in the United States we can’t help but ask whether this is a trend that we might follow, given our tendency to follow political trends out of the UK (and think primarily about ourselves). The coalition of youth that propelled this old, long ignored man of principle to the forefront does seem a lot like Sanders’ brigades, desperate to break up the oligarchy in favor of a more open system that supports working people.

The similarities hardly end there. Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) Democrats like Clinton similarly rode a wave that seemed to start with Tony Blair and still represent a centrist but non-populist strain of the party. The challenges within Labour were indeed the same as the challenges within the Democratic Party.

However, it’s easy to make far too much of Corbyn’s victory here across the Atlantic. The defeat in the last British general election was horrifically bad and cried for new party leadership – an event that simply has not happened in the US. More importantly, the entire structure of the UK government seems to be up for discussion with devolution and votes for independence in their regions and a growing disaffection with the EU – a position now welcome on the left after the horrific treatment of Greece.

President Obama himself, an able machine politician who is comfortable in populist clothes when it suits him, is the largest single difference.

David Cameron likes his new opposition leader - but he is always a bit too smug for taste.

David Cameron likes his new opposition leader – but he is always a bit too smug for taste.

The opposition, too, is completely different. The Tories hold a clear majority and rule from the center.  Their largest potential weakness is the smug “I was born to rule” attitude that permeates PM David Cameron’s otherwise congenial visage. Labour voters can be forgiven for thinking that a strong dose of populism might actually be quite electable, thank you very much.

The similarities between Corbyn and Sanders seem much more interesting by comparison to the other party, in fact. Many Democrats are behaving like Republicans, lining up behind the establishment choice early, while Republicans wallow in chaos like Democrats on acid. The idea of a complete shake-up, now realized in the UK, has to seem not only desirable but organic to a party known for opening up to generational change in a way that makes cat herding seem fun and easy.

Feel the Bern? That flame has to last if he's gonna do it.

Feel the Bern? That flame has to last if he’s gonna do it.

What can progressive left Democrats who support Sen Sanders take from the election of Corbyn? There is indeed a movement on the left that is growing in digits and desires, and it is global. It is a reasonable reaction to the ravages of globalism and the obvious answer to the worst of the damage done by a hurricane of change. Like the reactions on the right, the US Tea Party and the UKIP, this movement is much better at identifying what has gone wrong than it is at describing the vision of the new world ahead. But that may yet come.

The more important message from this election should be received by the Democratic establishment, which is to say Sec. Clinton and her supporters. The movement that they see ready to swamp them with a tidal surge is not going away and needs to be listened to. The real opening comes if the leadership changes this calling into a solid vision of progress towards a future together, demonstrating the purpose of leadership itself.

Failure to do this could well be fatal to the establishment. The challenge is very different than it was the UK, so the result can and should be different. Exactly how that goes down is entirely up to the establishment who are being tested more strongly than they have since FDR.

How is Corbyn like Sanders? Enough to get us talking. Hopefully, it will also be enough to get us to listen to each other, too.

16 thoughts on “Anarchy in the UK?

  1. I think this is one of your best posts. I find myself hoping that Clinton, et al, will NOT succeed in co-opting change agents like Sanders and Corbyn. This is not to say they have the ability to take control and implement change–any more than Obama did, supposing he actually wanted to, which I doubt–but at least the possibility exists.

    • Thank you! I think there is a lot to learn from the UK, as we often do – and they learn from us. It’s an interesting arrangement given our different systems.

  2. The Sanders crowd will take a lot of heart from this but they shouldn’t. It’s totally different here and underestimating Hillary is a stupid thing to do.

    • I think there is reason to take heart from it, but the situation is different enough here that it’s easy to make way too much of it. And you are right about Clinton and her team. The point is that there is indeed a global movement and they can capitalize off of each others’ successes. That helps a lot in terms of positive news but does it do anything more?

  3. We have to be careful about our frustration so that we don’t wind up shooting ourselves in the foot. If we lose this election who knows where the War on Women will go. We have to win first and look at idealogical purity second.

  4. With the Republicans descending into near-total irrationality, and Sanders looking more and more impressive, people may feel less and less need to hold their collective nose and support Clinton. Her reality, to me, is that however impressive her organization and her contact list she really doesn’t have a message.

    • I agree. For me, Clinton clearly has the leadership skills which make it easy for me to imagine her as President with a diverse, sometimes argumentative circle of advisors who are capable of making some solid progress.
      But the lack of a solid agenda that demonstrates what she stands for and what this potentially awesome power might be directed towards prevents me from supporting her now.

  5. I think that Corbyn is going to be a big mistake for the Labor party. They may think they want to go that direction but this doesn’t seem like how they can win the next election. He is way out there.

    • We will simply have to see. Britain rejected a mush middle in favor of a more resolute middle. Does that mean they are really hungry for a new direction? We will probably begin to see very shortly.

  6. I don’t think people think along generational terms. I doubt people like Obama just because of his age. Bernie Sanders is liked by young people . I assume young people like Corbyn.

    You down with that man?

    And by the way what is your thang?

    • While we’re getting Sanders and Corbyn, what voters really want is Nicola Sturgeon (SNP). But older, established leaders that “get it” will do in a pinch.
      There is a generation gap in voting patterns, for sure.

  7. Pingback: Brexit Blowup | Barataria - The work of Erik Hare

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