Centrist politics are obsolete. The notion of neoliberalism as the stable end point of civilisation has collapsed. The mainstream political world is increasingly seen as one separate from our day to day lives. And yet what remains of the political establishment, wherever it is still clinging onto power, will still dismiss candidates across the political spectrum as ‘radicals’ when they present arguments which, regardless of their accuracy, aim to tap into the frustration of the people. While parties like UKIP or the Leave campaign in the UK, the Front National in France, and Donald Trump in the US, have pounced at the opportunity and have stoked the fire with anti-immigrant rhetoric, why are we still restricting movements on the left from channelling the anger of the abandoned voters? The centre of the political spectrum is dead. Why is the left not responding?
It is clearly not for a lack of options; Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, Bernie Sanders in the US, and Podemos in Spain all seek to rejuvenate the left. What do they all share in common? They have been continuously smeared by the centrist parties and mainstream media. These three cases are different in their own ways, each of which are ever more useful illustrations of the point to which we have gone wrong, and how we can fix it.
The lack of support for Jeremy Corbyn both within his own party and in the media has painted him as ‘unelectable’. While the PLP and the media worry about Corbyn, Mrs. May criticises globalisation while she lowers the welfare cap and embarks on a business trip to India. While we scurry around looking for a ‘reasonable’ candidate to lead the opposition, the conservatives appoint a climate change sceptic as environment minister, someone who considers development aid a ‘low priority’ as development minister, and (for lack of a better word) a joke as foreign minister. By alienating Corbyn, a man with more popular support than any of his potential labour counterparts, we are giving the Tories a blank cheque to channel the anger of the disenfranchised British working class. With enough rhetoric, this anger can be manipulated in whichever way the government pleases, especially if the opposition is still clinging onto its centrist strategy of patronisingly telling people they’re being too radical. In the referendum, our answer to Vote Leave was a centre-right, high-brow pseudo-campaign spurting out facts and demeaning working class voters, often dismissing them as racist. It is clear that this approach simply doesn’t work anymore.
The US election offers a perfect illustration of how choosing a candidate with little popular support but more ‘reasonable’ policies over a more radical one with strong support just doesn’t work. The Democrat National Committee’s answer to someone rallying the cry of Americans feeling left behind by the establishment was Hillary Clinton, a candidate epitomising the very concept of ‘the establishment’. Faced with a candidate threatening to ‘drain the swamp’, the DNC gave us, well, the swamp. I’ll admit to thinking Clinton was the only way to stop Trump, back at a time when I hadn’t fully grasped just how serious Trump’s movement was in embodying working and middle-class frustration at the political neoliberalist establishment. It is now clear that a democrat candidate with a strong foundation of popular support and vowing in many aspects similarly to Trump, to be the people’s champion against the tyranny of Wall Street and the political elites, would have stood a better chance. That candidate was Bernie Sanders, and again, the story writes itself. With considerable resistance from lack of media coverage and lack of confidence from his party, he was deemed unfit and set aside. Again; the left, like the right, needs an emphatic, anti-establishment candidate.
Perhaps the most agonising example of how sclerotic the mainstream left has become is Spain. New left-wingers Podemos won enough seats in the first of two Spanish elections to form a coalition government with PSOE, the traditional left wing party. PSOE refused on the grounds that Podemos were too radical. The outcome of this is not a surprise: a second set of elections produced no clear majority and, upon the subsequent collapse of a mangled PSOE, PP have been voted by parliament into government. There we have it; a self-dubbed left wing party would rather hand over the government to the traditional right wing than to share it with ‘radicals’. Again, the mainstream left can continue to look down on its radical counterparts, but it should now be beyond surprise that without an opposition, nothing, other than his own incompetence, can stop Prime Minister Rajoy and the PP.
What can we learn from these three examples? Firstly, there is reason to be optimistic. There are plenty of politicians and political organisations out there with the potential to attract support from the voters who feel so abandoned, without needing to pander to anti-immigration rhetoric. Secondly, don’t let the media distort your image of reality. The media has vested interests; they didn’t want Trump, Podemos or Corbyn to win. Trump won, Podemos would be in government if the left hadn’t opted for a right wing government instead, and Corbyn, well, it’s up to you. Just think twice before calling him unelectable. Thirdly; shot-stopper candidates don’t work. If your candidate does not inspire, they will not win. A centre-left wing candidate brought forward to appease the rise of the far right will not work. Enter Owen Smith, Hillary Clinton, Pedro Sánchez. Finally, if you disagree, and think that our best bet is to tell people they’re wrong, racist and confused, while giving them candidates who aren’t ready to radically address their concerns, then don’t you dare express shock, concern, or fear when Marine Le Pen or Geert Wilders are sworn into office in France or the Netherlands next year, triggering the collapse of the EU. Don’t you dare act surprised when our values of tolerance, freedom of expression and multiculturalism come crumbling down at the feet of the misled masses we chose to spite and dismiss.