In both the United States and the United Kingdom, old principled lefties with a dislike for corporations, bankers, inequality and wearing fashionable clothes are mounting surprise bids for power. What has caused this turn of events?
We live in an age of highly polished career politicians. Often those seeking our votes will spend thousands on PR people to tell them how to stand, and determinedly avoid answering any controversial question. We also (at least in the UK and USA) live in a fairly right-wing political climate, and it is rare for someone with left-wing views to make it to the top nowadays. How then have two grey old lefties – both noted for their lack of fashion sense – managed to get into the position of quite possibly contesting the next elections in the two countries?
The parallels between Corbyn and Sanders are many. Both are roughly the same age and long serving politicians. Both have gained a reputation for acting on principal and speaking out against their party lines. They both opposed the Iraq war for example and took part in demonstrations in their youth that, in hindsight, put them on the right side of history – Sanders during the civil rights movement and Corbyn against apartheid. Both have mounted their leadership campaigns at roughly the same time and defied the skeptical world of mainstream politics by achieving high levels of popular support.
This wasn’t supposed to happen. Old Labour was supposed to be dead (replaced with the tory-lite New Labour of (alleged war criminal according to some) Tony Blair, and socialism is such a taboo in the USA that it was thought that anyone who proudly took on the label would be unelectable. Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have been looking on with disbelief, and the both country’s media have engaged in fear-mongering campaigns in the hope of retaining the status quo.
Why is this happening then? how have these two managed to defy the accepted wisdom and mount serious challenges? and how have a pair of old men inspired political engagement amongst the young that are almost unprecedented?
It can be put down to two things. Firstly, how bad it has really become for many people. Secondly, the fact that there is finally someone (in both countries) who seems to genuinely mean what they say and want to tackle the root reasons for why things have got so bad – unlike the other space-wasters who claim to represent us.
Elaborate on this bad state of affairs I hear you say. well, since the 2008 financial crisis things have been looking pretty gloomy for everyone (well not quite everyone – a few have been doing pretty well), especially the young. In the UK, Foodbank usage has reached record levels, unemployment rose massively and, although it has come back down, much of the new jobs now take insecure and low paying forms such as zero hours contracts. The cost of living has become untenable with housing in 91% of the country beyond the financial means of the median UK income (rising to 99% for those on minimum wage) and landlords and estate agents charging exorbitant agency fees – and trying to scam tenants out of deposits – in return for increasingly small and uninhabitable housing. Add to this the cost of transport – with train fares always on the rise and, since privatisation, actually subsidising the rail networks of other countries and still costing tax money. Despite this outstanding example of the folly of selling off public utilities, the government seems determined to continue having sold off the postal service to their mates at well under market value and attempting to do the same to the NHS. All this in the name of austerity, something which is necessary due to our country’s lack of money while at the same time actively avoiding taxing corporations such as google and many others. Meanwhile students are saddled with increasing levels of debt and a lack of job opportunities and MPs get their second pay rise in a year. That’s after using public money to bail out the banks that caused the crisis in the first place, as well as the various expenses scandals that have come to light (not to mention the fact that a third of MPs are in fact the aforementioned dodgy landlords.
It is no better across the pond, with big business and private concerns undermining democracy with political funding, rising (from an already high position for a developed country) levels of poverty, and mass shootings continuing to be the norm. Black people are still being shot by the police, an entire generation is drowning in student debt, and we now know that the government is spying on its citizens.
This is why people are drawn to the likes of Corbyn and Sanders – both of whom have pledged radical (although in fact not that radical, actually quite sensible) actions to deal with these problems. This is why they defying expectations, and this is why people are able to get behind candidates who on the surface seem like unlikely saviours.
A growing number of people are being pushed to breaking point, and are fed up with the crony capitalism that is pushing their standard of living ever lower while our politicians look out for themselves and their rich mates.
This is what is behind the rise of the grumpy old lefties (as well as the populist parties and politicians such as UKIP and Trump), and this is why we need them.