From Across the Pond: Populist Surge Makes Major UK Political Party Unelectable

This is a story written by an author who has watched his proud party burned down from the inside by a strange new breed of demagogue.

I, however, am no Republican.

I am an Englishman, and a member of the Labour Party. Labour is the left-wing party that rose to power in the 1997 election with a 93 percent approval rating. History beckoned. The party went on to govern over the longest period of sustained economic growth the country has ever seen, and subsequently won the next two elections. The result of the 2010 election was a so-called ‘hung parliament’, wherein no clear winner emerged from an equal vote share. Labour could never have made an alliance with the Conservatives, but their sluggish reaction to the results allowed the Conservative party to negotiate the beginnings of a coalition with the third-ranked party, the centre-ground Liberal Democrats. This unprecedented alliance between the two parties, the centrist Liberal Democrats and the right-wing Conservative Party, forced Labour to finally relinquish power in 2010. The Conservative Party finally won out and is still in power today. But do not forget for a moment that Labour accomplished much in its years in power and it is undeniable that my party has a proud history, much of it recent.

But that recent history was not enough for the membership, and two electoral defeats in a row (in 2010 and 2015) resulted in a period of strange, violent introspection, as well as loss of faith in the centre ground that had guided Labour principles during its years in power. Last year there was a leadership election, and much to the surprise of the party elders, in the place of the established candidates an outsider, facing bookmakers’ odds of one hundred to one, roared to victory. Jeremy Corbyn, a grievance candidate, was angered by the way the Labour Party had been run. He spoke for a new way of politics, and, by God, he would wipe the grins off of the faces of the party establishment. The colossal wave that he rode seemed destined to take him all the way to Downing Street. For a fleeting moment, it seemed inevitable that Labour would once again occupy the seat of power.

Alas, the wheels quickly fell off. Corbyn toured the country addressing huge rallies, filled with his adoring supporters. On stage he made undeliverable promises, and his crowd responded with wild adulation. Yet respected polls began to reveal that Corbyn was losing popularity with the wider electorate. In fact, his ratings among the general electorate were historically low. The subsequent blame and anger in the Labour rank-and-file found no willing home, but resulted in a second leadership election in as many years. Corbyn’s energetic campaign blamed the old guard for cynically undercutting the new way, and the old guard blamed Corbyn for leading the party in a direction so extreme that many in his own party membership didn’t quite believe in it. It took the spark of Brexit to ignite the conflict, and suddenly Labour’s leader was locked in open warfare with my party’s establishment. Mass resignations, threats of MPs being sacked for disloyalty, and doomed leadership challenges saw Labour slip ever further back in the polls. Today, we trail our rivals by seventeen points in national polling. Believe me, this was a war with no winner.

Sound familiar?

I’ve watched the Republicans being forced to swallow their own share of this peculiarly flavoured sandwich, and no doubt Democrats will thoroughly enjoy watching them chew over the repercussions and try to pick the logic out of their teeth.

The easy answer to the Trump phenomenon is to blame the most ultra-Christian, uneducated fanatics at the fringes of the far-right wing of the Republican Party base for propelling the Donald to heights that a man like that should never reach. Up there in the stratosphere, of course he was always going to be beset with altitude sickness and nose bleedsI mean, how else do you explain the sniffles?

But make no mistake: to blame the residents of Hicksville and the grubby lovers of Fox News would be a colossal mistake. A tempting one, yes, an easy one, perhaps even a comforting one, but an extremely dangerous misdiagnosis of the present ills all the same. The Labour Party, a party that sees a lot of itself in Obama’s Democrats, has fallen to the same phenomenon. And this is Englandit may rain all day, but we don’t have a Redneck vote.

In the United States, your Grand Old Party of the right has fallen, while in the United Kingdom, in a near synchronised collapse, my party of the left fell. Seeking to apportion the blame with a far-right caricature is dead wrong, and the far-left insurgency that has turned over the top table of the Labour Party proves as much. People across the spectrum are furious, and the destructive power of an angry populace should not be joked about.

Donald Trump is not your story, he is just the American chapter in a global narrative. Unless his opponents can think in those terms, he and his ilk will continue to spread unchecked. My proposition from across the pond is that we must build a unified narrative and tease out the similarities between our stories so that we can all learn and adapt.

And although ‘Trump or Hillary’ may be awful, it could be worse. Believe me. You could be a citizen of a splintered one-party state, ruled by an unelected leader, and hurtling toward economic oblivion. That would be bloody awful.

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