Among the democratic presidential candidates holding their first televised debate on Tuesday is a veteran politician who’s spent more than two decades on the outer perimeter of American politics. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a rank outsider, will take center stage. A politician who proudly calls himself a socialist is suddenly buoyed up on a wave of grassroots support.
Oddly enough, something similar has been happening in Britain.
After more than 30 years of relative obscurity as a far left lawmaker, Jeremy Corbyn was catapulted into the leadership of the opposition Labour Party last month. He was elected by a large majority of party members thrilled by his radical agenda. Corbyn is promising a socialist revolution with a massive homebuilding program by the state; an end to cuts in welfare; the renationalization of the railways; rent controls; and higher taxes for big business and wealthy individuals.
Corbyn’s socialism is rather more red-blooded than Bernie Sanders. Unlike Corbyn and his colleagues, the senator has not called for the end of capitalism. But Sanders’ brother, Larry, who lives in Britain, says the two men have much in common: They are both riding a wave of disgust against growing inequality.
“We’ve had 40 years in both countries in which the countries have gotten more wealthy but the vast majority of that money has gone to a very small number of very rich people,” said Larry Sanders. “My brother and Jeremy Corbyn are committed to combatting that.”
Joseph Lake of the Economist Intelligence Unit based in New York agreed that both Corbyn and Sanders are deriving support from the same mood of disillusion on both sides of the Atlantic.
“Voters are tired of the same old story: widening inequality, banks that are too big to fail, jobs being shipped overseas. And they’ve responded to this by showing their support for anti-establishment or far left politicians,” he said. “The two politicians have tapped into the same desire for change among younger voters.”
But Lake points out that the American senator and the British parliamentarian are both outsiders who are not plugged in to the political center ground where elections are usually won. He doubts that either will be able to turn their new-found popularity into power.
“I think there is very little chance we will see a President Sanders or a Prime Minister Corbyn,” he said.
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Bernie Sanders’ name. The text has been corrected.
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