In an election widely expected to shape the country’s future, an establishment-backed career politician who happens to be female faces off against a man widely perceived as a dangerous radical populist with an affinity for foreign tyrants.
Polls predict that he has no shot at winning. Pundits lament the madness of a once-great party that embraced such a candidate, dooming itself to ruin. Then, Mr. Populist rattles everyone by nearly closing the gap in the polls.
Still, on Election Day, Ms. Establishment is expected to coast to a comfortable victory. Instead, the results turn out to be devastating for her and her supporters.
How about that crazy British election?
That’s right: This was not a summary of the November 2016 presidential election of the United States, but of the British general election last week, pitting the Conservatives’ Theresa May against the Labour Party’s Jeremy Corbyn.
While the Tories have lost their parliamentary majority instead of gaining seats as they hoped, they still have an edge over Labour; thus, while May’s position is weakened, she remains prime minister by forming a coalition government with a small conservative party in Ireland. But if that coalition falls apart and Labour manages to form an alliance with other leftist parties, Corbyn may well be on his way to power.
How left-wing is Corbyn? Very. It’s not just that Labour’s manifesto promises a buffet of goodies for everyone and a tax hike on the rich; the real problem for Corbyn’s critics is his sympathy for anti-Western forces around the world. He praised Venezuela’s authoritarian socialist regime before it plunged the country into misery. He has had kind words for Hamas and Hezbollah, harsh ones for Israel. One of his top aides, journalist Seumas Milne, is a hard-core Kremlin apologist. If the Tories are toppled, the threat to the Western liberal order from the Trumpian right may be made worse by the Corbynite left.
But the British election is relevant to Americans in another way: Many U.S. progressives are saying Labour’s relative success provides a blueprint for the Democrats here. The solution, they say, is to give up on liberal centrism, embrace the Sen. Bernie Sanders left, and win by boosting turnout among minorities and young people, who were key to the Labour vote. Many Sanders supporters on Twitter reprised their slogan, “Bernie would have won.”
Of course, we’ll never know the answer to that hypothetical. The United States is a far more conservative country than England. What’s more, the British election result was the product of many unique factors. Some people voted Labour to weaken May’s hand and force her to choose a more moderate version of Brexit, England’s referendum-driven exit from the European Union. Some were disillusioned with May because of the recent terror attacks, even though she was the hard-liner in the race. Some were put off by her friendliness to Trump.
Still, the British election, just like the Sanders campaign here, shows that young people are drawn to left-wing politics, to the promise of an expanded welfare state and solidarity with radical liberation movements abroad. Perhaps a new generation will have to relearn the lesson that even democratic socialism can only go so far before it runs out of money, and that liberation can easily turn to tyranny.
Or perhaps the real lesson of the British vote is a reminder that we live in an era when fortune, at least in politics, is particularly fickle. All certainties can fall. Any predictions we may make on the basis of this election are likely to be proven false.
Cathy Young is a contributing editor to Reason magazine.