It is dangerous to draw conclusions from the elections of a country you don’t understand. But also, it’s hard to ignore the fact that the defeat of Jeremy Corbyn is bad news for the campaign of Bernie Sanders, another left-wing candidate currently campaigning in a country with a different political system a mere 4,000 miles away.
The similarities are impossible to ignore. Both are old men with a long history of political activism. Both are white. Both are grumpy. Both have supporters who try to attract new converts by angrily tweeting at them to “fuck off.” One is poorly dressed, and so is the other. One is a long-time party stalwart, the other has tried to take over the Democratic Party from the outside. One’s campaign has been dominated by accusations of failing to combat antisemitism, and the other is Jewish. Yes, Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders share much in common.
It’s true that Sanders is not as unpopular as Corbyn is in his country: Corbyn once described Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends”; he has alleged historical sympathies for the IRA; he has alienated the parliamentary wing of his own party; he has allowed his historically anti-racist party to be defined as a racist one; he has failed to find a coherent position on the defining issue of Brexit; he is a terrible media performer; and his entire campaign exuded a whiff of amateurism that meant he is broadly considered by voters across the political spectrum as completely unsuited to leadership.
However, these “details” shouldn’t distract from the real lesson America must learn from the UK election.
Because when you look beyond nuance and detail, what the UK election really showed was the limits of campaigning and winning on ideology. A socialist or very left-leaning message — inspired to turn out young voters and unite the working class — simply didn’t work.
If Democrats want success in 2020, the only possible path is a fresh kind of pragmatic centrism that has been completely untried in a Presidential election since 2016. Democrats must avoid being weighed down by extremist policies like “universal healthcare,” “taxing rich people,” and similar quasi-Stalinist ideas that have only ever found traction in banana republics like the UK and most of the rest of Western Europe.
Which is why I’ll be voting for Pete Buttigieg in 2020.