From the out-set Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders were destined to be compared, though they are very different men, the establishment response to their rise in popularity has been virtually identical. To compare and contrast the twin campaigns is to look at two sides of the same coin.
Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders share superficial similarities – they are older white gentlemen, of unpolished appearance. Career politicians seen to come from the extreme left of their respective parties. They seem to share broadly similar values regarding social security, income inequality, taxing the wealthy and equal rights.
That’s really where the similarities end.
Though described as a “socialist” in America, Sanders’ policies would make him a much more a centrist in Britain. Corbyn is for nationalising industry sectors and abolishing nuclear weapons, policies more likely to get you into an asylum than the Senate in America. While both men voted against the 2003 Iraq War, Corbyn is a pacifist at heart, dedicated to non-intervention, Bernie Sanders is not. He backed American “interventions” in Serbia, Syria, Afghanistan and Libya. These differences speak to the political landscapes of their respective countries, America has a spectrum of opinion strongly shifted to the right, whereas Britain’s political history includes semi-socialist governments.
The working populations of both the UK and US were hit hard by the financial crash of 2008. People have lost houses and jobs and government support. They have seen public money handed over to the private institutions who crashed the market in the first place, and watched their taxes get turned into six figure bonuses. People were angry, and ready for change. This lead to the surprising rise of Sanders and Corbyn, though they are very different, both in their politics and their backgrounds, both were men suddenly pushed forward by the changing tide of public opinion.
You can easily draw comparisons between the race for Democratic Presidential nominee, and the Labour leadership election last summer and the subsequent coup attempt. A scruffy, popular and seemingly principled man backed by nothing more than an unhappy and unrepresented electorate taking the field against an establishment player. A people’s candidate versus a corporate candidate. Both men built up strong popular followings, simply for appearing to be somewhat human compared to their colleagues. Both men were unfairly represented in the press, derided by television pundits, attacked for “sabotaging” their own party. Both men had their followers labelled “thugs” or dismissed as “cults”. Both men were winning anyway.
The different final results, victory versus capitulation, can be put down to two things: The strength of character of the two men involved, and the political power of their opponents. Angela Eagle, no matter what her motivational tapes tell her, is no Hillary Clinton.
The interesting, and unsettling, aspect of these twin campaigns has been that the hardest battles both men faced were not political disputes or policy clashes or debates. Instead, the political establishment turned on them, like an immune response. The methods, in both cases, came straight out of the same playbook.
When the PLP launched their coup, the media took their side, insisting it was not a “planned coup” but rather an “act of desperation”. They routinely ignored all the evidence of pre-planning, all the studies finding extesnive media bias, and accused Corbyn supporters of being “paranoid conspiracy theorists”.
The Wikileaks release of hacked DNC e-mails shows that the DNC and the media worked together to undermine Sanders’ campaign, and promote Clinton. The media have barely published any stories on this, ignoring all the evidence and routinely accusing any Sanders supporters who bring it up of being “paranoid conspiracy theorists”.
The Labour NEC has suddenly decided to impose voting rules on Labour members that are quite obviously designed to limit the impact of Corbyn’s support, resulting in a lawsuit. When Corbyn supporters protested this, they were accused of paranoia, misogyny and violence.
The Democratic Primaries were so riddled with “voting irregularities” that they are currently also subject to a lawsuit, and Stanford university published a study declaring the elections were all rigged. When Sanders supporters protested this they were accused of paranoia, misogyny and violence.
There’s no denying that the very idea of democracy has come under attack recently, and mostly because we keep voting for the “wrong” things. But here is perhaps the most naked display of the 1% deliberately disregarding the idea of the people’s collective will. Twin stories, running parallel for miles and then finally diverting to different destinations.
Jeremy Corbyn won, and has faced nothing but political scheming, virulent propaganda from the press and – eventually – an all out anti-democratic coup.
Where as last night, at the Democratic National Convention, Bernie Sanders gave up. Whether he was threatened, or bought off, or blackmailed I do not know….maybe he was just tired. Whatever his reasons, he threw in the towel and endorsed Clinton. Declaring he is “proud to stand with her”, and that we “must support” a woman he once declared “unfit to be president”. This is an absolute betrayal of everything the man has said for months, and all the values he has professed for decades.
You could almost argue that the game was rigged from the start, that Sanders endorsement lends Hillary the tiniest tint of socialist red. A bait and switch, stir-up a “revolution” and then put Clinton at the head of it, giving her faux-progressive bona fides. This enables them to push on with the “Anyone but Trump” narrative, having firmly established that Hillary is nice now, because Bernie said so. Real or fake, it makes no difference in the end. Sanders is done.
The press reaction to his surrender is very telling. Sanders is now a decent man, and he did well…but it’s time to be sensible and get behind Clinton. The defeat is claimed as a victory by Owen Jones. The “people’s champion” journalist endorses Clinton via a trumpeting of Sanders’ abject failure. There’s no talk of the leaked DNC e-mails. There’s no mention of fixed primaries. There’s no references to Clinton’s incredibly poor record as Secretary of State. Her corruption, her pro-war stance, her Wall Street backers.
No, Jones concludes that Sanders’ success in the polls will influence Hillary in some ephemeral way, and that the world will be better as long as all the nice people get together to make sure Trump doesn’t win. It is identity politics of the worst sort, shot through with insights as sharp as soup-spoons and puddle-deep analysis. And it is what was meant for Corbyn.
The Sanders movement is now a force in American politics, and it must surely set itself ambitious goals for the years ahead…Political change does not depend on individuals, however much they inspire their most ardent followers. A dependence on one leader is a weakness, not a strength, not least when it becomes a substitute for a clear vision or set of policies.
Read this quote. Change the names. This was going to the narrative after the successful Labour coup.
Corbyn was supposed to go, just as Sanders has done, he was supposed to cave to the pressure of the PLP and toddle off back to Islington North with a patronising pat on the head for his trouble. Articles would then appear, declaring Corbyn a “decent but misguided” man who had achieved a small victory by “changing the political language of the country”. We would be told to “get behind Hilary Benn”, or whichever suit full of bugger-all took over as leader, and the status quo would resume.
In the end the real difference between these two actors, semi-reluctantly cast in the same role, is toughness. For all Corbyn’s fluffy, well-meaning demeanor he obviously has some iron in his core, and solid attachment to his principles, and the will to weather the storm. That’s why he’s still standing in the spotlight, as Sanders limps defeated from the stage. And why, maybe, there’s still hope for change…on this side of the Atlantic, at least.