Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Trump, Corbyn, UKIP - that lot

Here's Ezra Klein in Vox: "it's not that Trump is a moderate Republican. It's that he's a moderate, full stop. And he's the kind of moderate that really exists, not the kind of moderate Washington likes to pretend exists — which is to say, his policy ideas, such as they exist, are often extreme, but they can't easily be classified as left or right."

Klein discusses a pollster who has looked into what Americans actually believe: ""A lot of people say we should have a universal health-care system run by the state like the British," Broockman told me in July 2014. "A lot of people say we should deport all undocumented immigrants immediately with no due process."" I suspect UKIP's views on hospital parking charges would also go down well with these people. (More below.)

Here's an interesting Broockman paper that Klein links to: "Most citizens would be pleased if the range of policies that political elites debated moved to the left on issues like taxes, marijuana, Social Security, and Medicare, while on immigration and abortion citizens tend to think the entire range of elite policy debate is too far to the left." (This is America, remember.)

What Broockman is directly attacking in his paper is the theory that lots of people are moderates and so polarised politicians fail to represent them. His point is that people who come out as 'moderate' on surveys are Trump-like mixtures of right-wingers on immigration and left-wingers on tax who are to both the left and the right of politicians. Here in the UK we don't need academic papers to persuade us - we have the story of the LibDems: when they were out of power, they were a Rorschach test in which plenty of voters could find their own mixture of extreme policies (legalising drugs! sound money! pro-EU!), but once they got into power, they turned out to be just a set of real moderates with no extreme views at all, and so no one voted for them.

I mentioned UKIP above and it's pretty obvious how they fit into the thesis that voters hold a mixture of extreme views that cannot always be neatly categorised into right and left. But what about Corbyn? He is popular and yet he is a straight-down-the-line old fashioned left-winger without a right-wing policy on offer. (Contrast Bernie Sanders in the US, who describes open borders as a right-wing policy that does away with the concept of a nation state.) How does he fit the thesis?

My theory is that he is the reaction to British politicians having already spotted the thesis. He is not part of the thesis - he is the antithesis.

Let me put it this way. UKIP, the SNP and even the Conservatives - the successful parties - have spotted the thesis and implemented policies to capture it. UKIP started it of course. The SNP mixes middle-class welfare (those free university places - they don't all go to Glaswegians from the multis you know) with left-wing rhetoric. And as for the Conservatives, the party that brought you gay marriage, a higher minimum wage and an 'austerity' that consists of following Ed Balls' spending plans while splurging money on pensioners can hardly claim to have much ideological consistency. (This is a cynical but insightful take on Tory policies by a left-winger explaining why Kendall needs to win. Read it.) Even Labour at the last election had 'tough on immigration' mugs to go with the energy price freeze. So the UK is ahead of the US: the Donald Trumps are already in control here and are mixing and matching all over the place. And perhaps people are starting to get a bit bored of it. Perhaps it looks opportunistic.

So what Corbyn offers is the next stage - the reaction - the antithesis. His brand is openly reactionary; overtly a return to the 1980s and the world of Tony Benn and Michael Foot. He doesn't even look like Russell Brand. What Trump offers is a mix-and-match alternative to parties defined by ideology; what Corbyn offers is an ideological alternative to parties defined by nothing more than mix-and-match policies. There clearly is a market for an ideological mix of policies: that's what the UK used to sustain and the US still has. And that is what Corbyn is going for. Viva la contra-revoluciĆ³n!

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