The Blog

Jeremy Corbyn and the Left Wing West Wing

No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, it is almost impossible to dislike Jeremy Corbyn. He's honest, good natured and he has quite a few good ideas too. I'm glad to see him running, and this post certainly isn't a polemic. The problem I have with him, and more specifically his supporters is one of dismissiveness towards the British public. Those who complain about Cameron commanding a parliamentary majority with such a thin slice of the electorate behind him are now hoping to kick a hard left candidate into Downing Street without any regard for the political center ground.

Britain is a conservative country. There was no great fraud in May. Those on the left who decry our unfair first-past-the-post voting system should consider themselves lucky to have avoided the significantly worse fate they would have suffered under proportional representation. With such rules, UKIP could have won 82 seats (instead of 1) and would probably have formed a coalition with the Tories. Moreover, I am yet to see any polling data to suggest that the result of the election would have been any different if Ed Miliband had dared to lean further to the left. For some Labour represented little more than 'austerity lite'. But for many others, policies to tax mansions, reduce tuition fees and allow the state to run our railways again, simply couldn't compete with Cameron's message of economic stability. And the public gets what the public wants.

So what now for the left? Across Europe, social democratic parties are splitting with those strictly opposed to austerity and neo-liberalism on one side and third-way centrists on the other. This division is unnecessary and needn't be considered inevitable. The evidence is in Washington.

Prior to 2008, American politics was a running to joke to liberal Europeans. Back then it was hard to imagine anything other than jingoism, corruption and religious bigotry setting the agenda on Capitol Hill. But since then Wall Street has been regulated, millions of Americans have been granted affordable health insurance and military interventions have been curtailed. If that wasn't enough, the American economy recovered without resorting to stringent austerity measures, and an ambitious climate deal with China, that would have been almost unimaginable only a few short years ago, has now been signed. This is change you don't have to believe in, because you can see it with your own eyes. And all this was achieved by a president who always strived, often to an infuriating degree, to put forward his ideas in an inclusive and centrist fashion.

Heads might explode when I say it out loud, but Barack Obama is by far the world's most successful left-wing politician of the 21st century. Partly, this is because he understands that politics is far more polarised than the general public. Those passionate enough to involve themselves in politics are, and almost always have been, a small minority of the population. Few will thank me for quoting Tony Blair, but he was right when he wrote that for "for most normal people, politics is a distant, occasionally irritating fog."

The center ground of politics and public sentiment has moved to the left on social issues and the right on economic issues, these two trends are in my view undeniable. To get things done in the 21st century, you have to understand the cultural terrain you're fighting on. You also have to acknowledge the will of the people you're fighting for and to do that you have to be a champion of the underdog from the political center ground. As it stands, I don't see how Jeremy Corbyn can do that.

In the meantime, if any Europeans on the left want to remember what winning looks like, they should try looking west.