Jul 05 2016

The Left Rises in the West

Jeremy Corbyn has been elected Labour leader in an astonishing campaign, with the Blairites and nay sayers being resoundingly ignored about the future prospects of Labour under Corbyn. The Labour party members have spoken, and a democratic election that saw the parties’ membership rise at the fastest rate since 1951 has produced a result that betting shops set at 200-1 at the start of the election. The rank outsider who barely even made it onto the ticket has been endorsed, and has finally thrown off the identity crisis inducing restrictions of New Labour. But the new socialist-style leader of the opposition is only one of many new left-wing politicians gaining traction in Western countries, all giving off the same anti-austerity message.

We’ve already seen the extreme of this leftist platform gain power in Greece under Syriza which is being crushed under its unsustainable debts imposed on it by its European creditors. But similar less extreme patterns can be seen all over the developed world. A country suffers from global recession, established parties attempt to deal with it by cutting deficits, they’re severely criticised for lowering living standards for the majority of people whilst the rich gain, there is a rise of populist parties and leaders changing the established order in response to dissatisfaction with lazy corrupt leaders. There is Podemos in Spain, which was only founded just over a year ago but is consistently ranking as the most popular party in Spain on its anti-establishment, anti-austerity platform. Similar movements are also being seen in Italy and some Nordic countries; there are also right-wing responses from the likes of UKIP and the Front Nationale in France. Even more importantly than any single European party is Bernie Sanders, who shares a lot of political characteristics with Jeremy Corbyn. Sanders is gaining ground in the United States, campaigning for the Democratic nomination so much so he has recently begun to overtake the presumed clear winner and establishment favourite  – the dynastic Hillary Clinton.

Sanders himself describes himself as a Democratic Socialist and is an independent Senator for Vermont who isn’t part of the Democratic Party but works with them. This places him out of the usual centrist Democratic core and in conflict with the general attitude of the more powerful and influential members of the party. This would put him to the far left of the most powerful nation on the planet that is traditionally seen as being on the political right when compared to all other developed countries, and is notoriously fearful of anything involving the word ‘socialist’ during the ideological clashes of the Cold War. Even though the centre-left Democratic Party has been in power for 16 out of the last 24 years, Obama (who is the most leftist President elected in the post-war era) is constantly restrained by the Republican-controlled Congress. As for Clinton, he supported the death penalty, increased police powers, enacted the ludicrous ‘three strikes and you’re out’ judicial system and was also constantly restrained by Republican House control. So for Bernie Sanders to become the Democratic nominate in the United States would be a massive change for the Party and the nation as a whole. This makes him a rank outsider in usual situations. But hold on, the British Labour Party just elected its most left party leader in over 30 years and Britain has a similar right-wing tradition that we share with our ‘special ally’.

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Sanders congratulated Corbyn on the day of his victory, something he was criticised for by camp Hillary. Both these men have the same ideological approach to governance ,which is basis of their growing popularity. The pair of them believe in down-to-Earth style politics, where they aren’t above anybody (both famously walk to work every day). Both take anti-war and pro-diplomacy stances, especially towards Israel. They also are very much against government spying, something of which the Americans and British have been found the most guilty in recent years. Both share extensive experience as campaigners for gender equality and racial rights. But really their main appeal comes from their response to the global economic crisis of 2008, which is counter to the established austerity norm. They insist that the poorest and the discriminated against need more help and representation, and insist that the richest should pay more. All of this leads into their main argument and a major reason why they’ve become so dangerously attractive to the general public: they want to reverse the dizzying spiral of inequality that has defined the world as it recovered from the recession. They both enshrine a new compassion-based ideological platform from which to govern. They expound a message that the 1% doesn’t need to control 99% of the world’s wealth (that will soon be a real fact), power can be brought back to the people, and complete equality across ethnic, social, and gender lines should be what governments aim for. So maybe we can throw off the shackles of inequality and actually be a force for good in a world where the weakest and poorest get disproportionality extorted. Maybe we can leave behind the general acceptance that the rich are impenetrable and that evil forces control our governments.

With the rise of populist parties across the entire western world threatening the normal political establishment, a change must be coming. At the moment it could still be classed as ‘unlikely’ with old supporters of Labour screaming that they’ve just made themselves unelectable, which could be true and already a split can be seen developing within the party and all of the institutions that support it. But 200-1 odds were just defied, so nothing should be ruled out. It might be time for a new form of political establishment in response the crises of the modern world, and even though the odds are against Corbyn and Sanders for fostering their political phenomenon into real power, there is some hope that can be gleaned from the past. It’s in the unlikely place of Margret Thatcher’s rise to power in 1975. When she was elected leader of the Tories the traditional elites of the Conservative party – including former Prime Minister Harold Wilson – said that her new neo-liberal ideas of privatisation and deregulation would make her unelectable. But history has shown how wrong they were. As with now, across the Atlantic a similar message was being preached in the form of ex-actor Ronald Reagan. Neo-liberalism  has flourished across the world and is still considered the norm today, so maybe it is time to leave behind the legacy of Thatcher that clings to both our society and the States’ for a completely new style of governance. Corbyn and Sanders should rise from the shambles of the present day, like she did, and allow the Left to dominate the West.

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