American Takes on the UK Election Are Hot Garbage

Our cousins across the pond have gone to the polls in an historic election. Candidates have stood together on stage in a quaint ritual, hearing the results, wearing their little ribbon like a prize cow. Salt of the earth voters in the East Riding of the Upper Cramlington Marches have been interviewed for their thoughts, expressed in their defining patois. And as the totals are tallied in this UK election, American commentators have declared the winner: Joe Biden.

Ask anyone, at least any American pundit, and you’ll hear that British voters rejected Labour because it had campaigned too far to the left. Extrapolating from that ill-informed datapoint, they conclude that Trump will win next year unless Democrats in the US choose a candidate with no identifiable policy positions other than not being Trump. In other words, Democrats have to stop hoping for nice things and settle into the mostly-benign embrace of Uncle Handsy.

This conventional wisdom was best summarized in a Tweet from Yascha Mounk at The Atlantic:

Nobody took the lessons of Britain’s election more to heart than the Honorable Senator from MBNA, who explained, with his usual eloquence:

Look what happens when the Labour Party moves so, so far to the left. It comes up with ideas that are not able to be contained within a rational basis quickly. You’re also going to see people saying, ‘My God, Boris Johnson, who is kind of a physical and emotional clone of the president, is able to win.’

American pundits have concluded that Johnson = Trump and Corbyn = Sanders or Warren. This is a blindingly stupid simplification, informed mostly by the neurotic terror of Democrats so unaccustomed to winning that they are negotiating against themselves. Whatever lessons Americans may glean from this British election, they are neither so simple nor so clear as the TV soundbites.

Comparisons between the party leaders in Britain and the US start out awkward, then turn absurd. What hobbled Corbyn was not socialism but incompetence. Jeremy Corbyn is less a Sanders or a Warren then a sallow cutout of Marianne Williamson in an ill-fitting suit.

If this foreign election must be placed in a US context then British voters are best seen as having faced down a choice between two disastrous candidates, both incoherent and unreliable, both sporting suspect ties to the Russians, and neither offering an alternative to Brexit. Voters chose the marginally less frightening option, the more competent of the two appalling goofballs.

Voters did not repudiate socialism. The UK is not the US. British voters faced two leading parties both battling to seize the leftist mantle, with the Tories going so far as to back a £10 minimum wage and a massive spending binge. The Tories built their campaign plan on a massive race to the left.

Many of Labour’s new economic plans seemed catastrophically bizarre, including the re-nationalization of large swathes of the country’s industry. Their “left” agenda was mostly a rehash of the mid-20th century, with proposals aimed squarely at the needs of a working class that no longer exists. Where the party drifted into truly ground-breaking territory, as with proposals for a universal basic income, they hedged and dodged. Conservatives responded to this muddled economic appeal by emphasizing Labour’s anti-Semitic threat while endorsing a massive minimum wage hike, a £33 billion boost in NHS spending, a massive medical staffing increase, and backing off corporate tax breaks.

Going further, the Tories are promising to reach net-zero carbon-emissions by 2050, go on a £100 billion infrastructure spending binge, raise teachers’ salaries, and dramatically stiffen environmental protections. Which party lurched left in this election? Which part of this agenda makes the Tories the British equivalent of America’s Republicans?

Think voters were choosing between Brexit or Remain? Think again. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn refused to take a position, defeating an effort to press Labour to endorse a Remain position in the election. Like many old-line Labour socialists, Corbyn was ambivalent toward the EU from the beginning. He actually voted against joining the EC in 1975, opposed the Maastrict Treaty, opposed the Lisbon Treaty, and backed an earlier Conservative Brexit proposal in 2011.

Is immigration the issue that gave Tories the edge? Tories certainly leveraged racial fears to frighten voters, but good luck finding a meaningful distinction between Labour and the Tories on immigration beyond tone. Corbyn refused to endorse a continuation of freedom of movement with the EU after Brexit. Labour’s immigration policy retains the limitations of the Tory plan, with an emphasis on attracting skilled labor to fill vacancies, but retaining tight immigration controls.

Voters did not endorse “racism” in voting Tory, as their alternative was a Labour Party riven with increasingly virulent anti-Semitism. Hostility toward Jews fomented by Labour had reached such a pitch that the Archbishop of Canterbury was forced to make a statement on the subject. As former London Mayor and Labour MP Ken Livingstone explained after the election, “The Jewish vote wasn’t very helpful.”

If we’re going search for lessons for Americans in the UK election, it would make sense to dig a little deeper into Corbyn’s Jewish problem, and his wider “eccentricity.” You can’t understand why a British public largely opposed to Brexit would support the Tories without recognizing that Corbyn is just a kindly old nutter.

Similar to how Trump has inspired a wave of white nationalist violence in the US, Corbyn has unleashed a wave of anti-Semitism within Labour, under the very shallow cover of pro-Palestinian politics. Corbyn’s deeply troubling ties to terrorist groups and anti-Semites, paired with his constantly moving and maddeningly ambiguous stances on Brexit, doomed Labour in this election.

Corbyn has a long history of supporting terrorists going back to his days of attending IRA funerals. He is more than merely “critical” of Israel. He’s established deep, long-standing ties to Mideast terror groups, referring to Hamas and Hezbollah as friends. Corbyn attended a wreath-laying ceremony for Palestine terrorists in Tunisia. The site included the graves of the Black September terrorists who murdered Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. Asked to explain the image, he issued a muddled, evasive series of whataboutism tweets and has never clearly stated why he was there and who he was meeting.

Some of Corbyn’s other “friends” include prominent Holocaust denier, Paul Eisen. Corbyn has lied about his relationship to Eisen and the depth of his ties to Eisen’s organization. Corbyn is probably not personally, expressly anti-Semitic, but many around him are. Like American Republicans who keep finding themselves “unfairly” tied to the white nationalists standing in photos with them, his lack of sensitivity to these issues is telling and consequential. Thanks to Corbyn, Labour wasn’t able to make this election a clear choice between progress and bigotry. Thanks to Corbyn, Labour wasn’t able to make this election a clear choice between Brexit and Remain. Thanks to Corbyn, Labour wasn’t able to deliver a stark contrast between a predatory, kleptocratic capitalism and an emerging, technocratic, post-Marxist socialism. But the problems with his leadership were beyond just these issues.

He also opposes NATO, calling it a “military Frankenstein” and an “engine for the delivery of oil to the oil companies.” He consistently repeated Kremlin talking points on Ukraine and Crimea, blaming NATO for Russia’s invasion.

Corbyn helped fan the original conspiracy theory tying vaccines to autism. He supports homeopathic medicine, backing a Parliamentary motion endorsing its use in formal health policy. It’s tough to find a discredited concept, practice or conspiracy theory on the left to which he has no ties. Corbyn is doctrinaire, erratic and entranced by obscure ideas like a cat playing with Christmas tree ornaments. Meanwhile, he has none of the foundational political instincts necessary to run an organization of any real size or to campaign effectively.

All these criticisms aside, it should noted that if the UK operated under a system of proportional representation like those on the continent instead of using single-member parliamentary districts, we’d be discussing the Tories’ embarrassing defeat, having gained only a single point in the polls over their similarly miserable 2017 result. They’d be forced to find a coalition partner, and with the LibDems and Labour combining to equal the Tories’ parliamentary power, that coalition might be out of reach. Conservatives are no more popular than they were before, they just got lucky with the geographic distribution of their support.

Apart from the geographic glitches that gave Conservatives their win, comparisons to US politics just don’t hold water. Efforts to make Johnson a proxy for Trump and to make Corbyn represent Warren or Sanders are pure imagination. There isn’t a Republican alive who could win an election in Britain outside Northern Ireland. And Corbyn probably couldn’t win a national election anywhere in the western world. The only corollary between this UK election and our dilemma is the atmosphere of dark, carnival mayhem, the panicked realization that there are no adults coming to save us from ourselves. Our ideologies don’t map to each other, but we share an experience of greatness gone to rubbish, a hollow, mournful feeling of squandered potential that foreshadows a reckoning.

Our limey friends did the best they could with their miserable options. Their choice tells us nothing about what they might have done if given a chance to elect a competent leader from the right, left, center, up, down or in between, or how we might respond to the same opportunity.

30 Comments

    1. EJ

      It’s been pretty popular in Latin America throughout the 20th century. A Left-populist leader won the last Bolivian election, for example.

      (What happened to him is perhaps a good example of why this doesn’t happen more often, sadly.)

  1. Thank you for your nuanced, deeper level take. You’re right.

    And also, you’re wrong because nuance, deep level takes aren’t The Thing anymore. One of the reasons why the Tories won is because they said “Get Brexit done” and the other parties’ responses were, “Well so actually but however on the other hand, if we consider from a different perspective and how best to handle issues including and beyond Brexit, that is to say both issues of labor but also if we perform Brexit or Remain, how they will affect labor…”

    As easy as it is to show how dogshit Corbyn is, there is not one single way he’s dogshit that Boris Johnson isn’t also. They’re both equally, or Johnson even more, total dogshit. So personalities aside, you then look at the party. Polling showed most of Labour’s many policies were very popular, and that a small majority opposed Brexit. Polling showed most of the Tories policies to be unpopular.

    So. You have two equally garbage men. One is a member of a group that has some ideas you like, and is not responsible for the dumpster fire that your country is currently attending too. The other is a member of a group that has no ideas you like, and set the dumpster fire. The promise of the garbage man you hate who is the member of the group who started the dumpster fire and isn’t offering the stuff you want is running on the message of letting the dumpster fire burn the block to the ground. The man you hate who runs the group with stuff you want isn’t clear about how he feels about the dumpster fire. Who do you vote for?

    I, personally as a voter, only myself, would vote for the man I hate who was a member of the group who promised things I liked, and was ambivalent about the foster fire, in the hopes that I could influence his other party members to put out the dumpster fire.

    What I saw from most analyses of the UK results, is that people generally prefer the guy who says, definitely, that the dumpster fire should burn down the block over the guy who prevaricated over the dumpster fire, no matter what their parties represent, because confidence is considered strength.

    I thin everything from 2015 to now has been continual lessons to me, over and over and over again: any dumbfuck asswipe who tells loud enough about what he believes will get far more votes than anyone who aays, “Whoa wait, hold up, let’s consider this for a moment.” I think that politics is not deep, and maybe even “no longer that derp”,” if we want to presume it ever was deep. It doesn’t seem to be. When the brain breaks down is where politics start. All of my intelligent, caring, interesting friends become hateful boring idiots the second politics starts.

    So that’s what that Tweet means. Politics gives right wing people a structural vantage because it’s easier to fight, yell, and throw your weight around when you are a complete asshole than it is if you’re a considerate, thoughtful type.

    Boris Johnson won BECAUSE he lacks nuance. You’re nuanced review is the reason we don’t.

  2. Probably the best economic explanation of Brexit I could find [1]. It sounds a lot like Governor Brownback sold in Kansas or Governor Walker sold in Wisconsin: Remove Regulations and Cut Taxes and Business Will Come. Great in theory, but everyone knows that in theory, theory and practice are the same; but in practice, theory and practice are different. Rural communities are desperate for infrastructure upgrades and investment while blue collar workers are desperate for manufacturing jobs. These two groups will take any promise given to them, but the never ask ‘what kind of jobs?’, ‘what kind of investment?’, ‘will we really come out ahead from policy?’, or ‘is this too good to be true?’.

    [1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B6fne0PXIZM

  3. I do think you are missing one very obvious thing in play that we should be paying attention to. If someone has ties to the Russians, that pretty much needs to be disqualifying presently.

    Putin styles himself the leader of global conservatism, and frankly that’s becoming a reality. Tulsi Gabbard needs to get shoved off the stage, but we need to look long and hard at why there has been more than one whiff of russian ties to Sanders as well.

    Putin has been pulling the strings all over the world to collapse representative government, and anyone, taking any russian assistance, or who has staff members or political advisors who have worked with the russians need to explain themselves.

      1. His old chief strategist (Tad Devine) was a Manafort associate: https://www.vanityfair.com/news/2018/07/bernie-sanders-strategist-tad-devine-paul-manafort-files-mueller

        Tad Devine was part of the team who helped elected Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was the pro-putin, pro-russia president (Who has since been conviced of treason) who’s collapse is at the center of all of this stuff.

        Devine has left the Sanders campaign, but the fact that he was ever there is deeply concerning.

      2. Worth noting that Devine was Sander’s chief strategist through all of the 2016 primaries. Given the amount of damage (IMHO) his campaign did to Clinton, and given how much Putin and his associates loath her, having a guy who helped elect a Putin crony in Ukraine as his chief strategist in 2016 isn’t a great look.

      3. Having a guy who worked with Manafort in Ukraine on your campaign is definitely not a good look. Unfortunately a lot of political consultants rent themselves out to bad foreign clients. But the idea that helping Sanders would hurt Clinton is one that surely occurred to the Russians, and it’s inconceivable that they didn’t follow up on that.

        I just don’t see the kind of behavior on the part of Sanders pointing to cooperation with Rissia that I see in Trump.

      4. Yeah, you’ll note I don’t say he’s a Russian candidate (unlike Gabbard, who pretty clearly is.) Just that there’s a whif of russia about him. The Devine thing could be nothing, but it’s sufficient as a tie to keep eyes open for future ties.

    1. EJ

      This is an interesting take in that it echoes a lot of British takes, but I believe it makes the same mistake as they do: it asks what Labour did wrong, rather than what the Conservatives did right.

      Corbyn didn’t lose the election. Boris won it. There’s a crucial difference.

  4. I am a bit more conservative than Bernie or Warren. But I want reform. Especially of dark money in politics and the corruption of our government and other institutions. I think those people are more likely to get closer to making that happen. By world standards neither are that leftist. And the Democrat coalition has a significant moderate and conservative presence to tamp down any move too far left.

    I think we need a national universal health care system that covers everyone paid for by some national tax. But the words medicare for all has been thoroughly trashed by those who oppose that. So instead call it a public option and let private health care insurance exist. You choose what you want . That is an incremental step that will fly currently in our politics.

    I really think we need a decent inheritance tax starting after at a fair level of wealth transfer. But after that treat it just like we do lottery winners. After all that is the same just being lucky. That would short circuit the current trend towards feudalism where a few lucky people by birth owning everything and everyone else.

    I want a better social safety net which will end up making it easier for people to take risk starting their own business. A blend of some socialism where it makes sense and capitalism encouraged but regulated so the problems Adam Smith wrote about are tamped down. Capitalism is changing the world right now. The biggest class in the world now is the middle class. So it is a blessing. But like all man made things it is not perfect and needs tweaking here and there.

    A book I am currently reading Factfulness by Hans Rosling gets into how to read and interpret statistics and how they shatter many myths we have. Things as a whole are getting much better for humanity.Something I remember Mr. Ladd has wrote about. We have big problems yes. But I think human ingenuity is up to the task.

    I am in my mid sixties but over the last ten years I have grown much. Still learning and still undoing the false I have learned in the past. You can teach an old dog new tricks after all.

  5. Thank you chris: bernie and warren want our country to have an english healthcare system, that does not equal Corbyns policies. We love in such a messed up nation that calling for english/European style capitalism is Marxism. Thanks for pointing out corbyns major flaws too.

      1. America can learn from the universal healthcare systems of the other industrialized nations in the world, who are spending less than half what the US spends (18%of GDP), and get better health outcomes.

        A good read Is: The Healing of America, by TR Reid; and, America’s Bitter Pill

        Tge Commonwealth Fund has excellent research on healthcare internationally.

        Here are a few articles for your consideration:
        https://international.commonwealthfund.org/

        http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2136867,00.html

      2. Yes I dont want public hospitals just public funding of private systems rather than “you are on your own” in fact I lived in Switzerland and they have a private insurance system that is heavily regulated, subsidized and not for profit my monthly premium was like 45 a month and I have a minor back issue that I needed help for and paid zero copay. In the us I pay 150 a month and my copay for the same procedure is 250. It’s a shame, we dont need free healthcare for everyone we just need a system that everyone can afford which means subsidizing it until it is free for a lot of people and making it really cheap for the rest

      3. EJ

        The German system might be difficult to implement in the US, given our wildly different attitudes to how private enterprise should work. Germany’s system relies upon the cultural expectation that local government should have the right to review the internal policies and decisions of companies operating in that locality, as well as a cultural predeliction for small and medium-sized local and regional businesses rather than giant chains. From what I understand of the US, this is not how your healthcare system, or indeed your market as a whole, works.

        (Germany was starting to reform and become more neoliberal; but then Deutsche Bank, champion of this movement, started to see its scandals pile up, and now it’s somewhat less well spoken of.)

        Having lived in Britain for a while now, I think the British are right to be proud of the NHS. Its existence is inherently offensive to those who hold to a free-market ideology more closely than they do to empirical data, but anyone who sees their ideology conflict with empirical data and doesn’t change their ideology should not speak among adults.

      4. We already have all those models. We don’t even need to start from scratch. The French system is similar to our Medicare (public insurance, private doctors & hospitals). And the German / Swedish model is similar to the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan (FEHBP) (tightly regulated private insurance companies providing standardized coverage packages paid by the employer). Each of these programs cover millions of lives and work very well. The only thing they don’t do is allow private insurance to make billions of profits while bankrupting their beneficiaries, and for that reason, they’re not allowed to become universal.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.