Sunday, August 28, 2016

Donald Trump has hijacked the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower and Reagan in the same way that Jeremy Corbyn has hijacked the party of Attlee and Wilson and Blair.

The cuddling up of Nigel Farage to Donald Trump should surprise nobody. Both are Right Wing populists with prejudiced views of minorities and foreigners and simplistic anti-politics manifestos. And neither is a conventional politician in any way. Indeed you would think that neither could possibly survive in, let alone lead, a respectable political party. Farage did not attempt to. This once Conservative had to be part of a new anti status quo protest movement to progress. UKIP is not a political party but as David Cameron once memorably and rightly put it a "...sort of a bunch of ... fruitcakes and loonies and closet racists mostly,"  

Although Trump and Farage are clearly ideological bedfellows it is not Farage that the "Donald" most resembles in Britain, but Jeremy Corbyn. Farage personally broke away from mainstream politics to join and then lead UKIP. He did not try and exist in a broad church political party (unlike many of his political fellow travellers on the Tory Right). Corbyn, however, has always stayed in Labour even in the Blair/Brown years when "New Labour" pursued policies in power which were anathema to him. That he now leads Labour is the serendipitous outcome of a bizarre, even accidental, series of events a year ago. He is shifting Labour to the Left, marginalising the "Blairites" and occupying ground that would previously have been the territory only of minority parties like the "Socialst Workers Party" or of the small rabidly socialist Left in Parliament (of which, for thirty years, he was a member).

In America the divisions between the Democrats and the Republicans, which when I was young were fairly small, are now much, much wider. America is two nations like never before. The Republican Party had already become a much more Right Wing party appealing to a distinct electorate before the arrival of Trump. Indeed George W Bush's neo-conservatism won two Presidential elections showing that this electorate is potentially at least in the majority. But the absence of a credible leader over the past year and during the Primary season left a gaping gap into which Donald Trump rode. 

For Jeremy Corbyn to lead Labour from his Hard Left positioning is directly analogous to Donald Trump leading the Republican Party from his Hard Right stance. A difference is that Corbyn is a career politician, albeit one with previously little prospect of, nor desire for, high office. Trump is not a politician at all.  He is the only Presidential candidate of a major party in modern times (Eisenhower excepted) never to have been elected to any political office. Similarly Corbyn is the first modern Party leader never to have been a Minister or Shadow Minister. Donald Trump has hijacked the party of Lincoln and Eisenhower and Reagan in the same way that Jeremy Corbyn has hijacked the party of Attlee and Wilson and Blair.

"Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best” as Bismarck put it. We have to concede that it is just possible that Donald Trump could be elected President of the United States of America. But it is far more likely that Americans will choose the " next best" - we must certainly hope so! Trump has a chance because his brand of populism strikes a chord with (especially) the working class white male who is virulently anti Obama/Clinton. He is the archetypical anti-Establishment figure. Jeremy Corbyn is also anti-Establishment but the difference to Trump is that his Left Wing brand of populist anti-establishmentism has a much more limited appeal. There is a significant body of support for Corbyn and they are very vocal. But there is no chance of this cultish group being able to create an electable Labour Party. Again the "next best" - Theresa May and her centre-Right Conservatives - would be the people's choice in a General Election. 


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