BY JOHN GRAHAM
Last month, after losing the General Election to the Conservative Party, the UK’s Labour Party elected a man named Jeremy Corbyn as its new leader. Although he was an outsider, he quickly became the front-runner before going on to win with 59 percent of first-preference votes, an unprecedented result for any leadership election of any party.
The coverage of Donald Trump’s antics (and the inexplicable level of support he seems to enjoy) look remarkably similar to the coverage surrounding Corbyn’s leadership campaign. As Corbyn shot to the top of the polls, current and former Labour officials warned that the party would be unelectable if Corbyn won. The explosion in Labour Party membership prior to the leadership election prompted concerns that many of the new members were Tory infiltrators seeking to skew the result in favour of an ‘unelectable’ candidate (I’m sceptical of this theory, but it was a serious concern). Additionally, many senior Labour politicians ruled out serving under Corbyn, and some news reports even suggested plans for a party coup to unseat him if he won.
So why the fuss over this particular candidate? Well, other than being outspoken political outsiders, Corbyn and Trump are nothing alike. Corbyn is a veteran of the left, a self-described socialist, and a long-time supporter of many left-wing movements, including the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. Furthermore, he supports the renationalization of major British industries, utilities, and public services, and is a close ally of the trade unions, two things which make him the sort of person the Labour Party has spent decades trying to disassociate itself from. Margaret Thatcher, after all, kept Labour out of power for over a decade by privatising state-owned enterprises and utilities, and beating the trade unions into submission in the process. To those old enough to remember the 70s and 80s, Corbyn looks like a dangerous throwback.
Besides his hard-left background, concerns have also been raised about Corbyn’s dubious past associations. He was a senior member of the Stop the War Coalition, a group which has described the assortment of sectarian militias that arose in post-invasion Iraq as the “Iraqi Resistance”, even though most of the people they killed were Iraqi civilians of the wrong sect. He has also hosted representatives of Hamas and Hezbollah in the UK parliament (something he’s entitled to do as an elected MP), and has met with people like Raed Salah and Paul Eisen. The former has been convicted in Israel of inciting terrorism, and the latter has expressed doubts about the holocaust. Corbyn himself has expressed regret for associating with these two, and has condemned both holocaust denial and extremism, but hasn’t apologised for inviting Hamas and Hezbollah representatives to parliament.
There isn’t enough space to go over each of Corbyn’s policies – some of which enjoy public support and others of which don’t – or the attacks against him which began almost as soon as he’d won the leadership contest; but some of his policies are particularly worth mentioning. One is “People’s Quantitative Easing”, essentially the printing of large amounts of money to finance infrastructure projects and public services in place of budget austerity. Besides being illegal under EU rules which forbid national governments from financing government spending through printing cash, it sounds remarkably similar to the way Greece and other Mediterranean countries financed their pre-crisis booms.
Another policy of Corbyn’s is to withdraw Britain from NATO (imagine President Trump’s reaction to that announcement – “you can’t leave, you’re fired!”), and to dramatically slash the UK’s defence budget (on top of abolishing Britain’s nuclear deterrent). This prompted an unnamed general in the British Army to warn of a possible mutiny if Corbyn became Prime Minister, an unprecedented threat from a military figure, let alone a serving general.
If these are his policies, and so many people seem to hate him or deride him, how did someone like Jeremy Corbyn come to win the leadership of a major political party? Besides winning the support of the trade unions and most of the younger voters (as well as repurposing Obama’s old campaign slogan as “Jez, we can”), Corbyn enjoyed the same advantage Trump does: he stood out from his rivals. The Labour Party was badly demoralised by its electoral defeat, especially after losing all but one of their Westminster seats in Scotland to the SNP, and all three of Jeremy Corbyn’s rivals were too closely associated with past Labour leadership. Corbyn, like Trump for Republican voters, is an outsider with a fresh message prepared to take on the establishment with a fresh set of solutions. A dramatic change of direction was needed to rescue the Labour Party, and so Labour lurched left.
Corbyn and Trump are polar opposites, but a word of warning to American voters reading this piece: if you really want to keep Trump out of the Oval Office, take him seriously. Few in the British establishment took Corbyn or his policies seriously back in August, and now he’s five years and one election away from actually running the country. Above all, take seriously the issues that Trump talks about, not the outlandish comments he makes about them. Plenty of other voters take them seriously, and if you’re not careful, it will be President Donald Trump tackling those issues is his own way.