The depressing results of the British elections are in, and, inevitably, people are drawing parallels to American politics and the prospects for 2020. Notably, the usually sensible Roger Cohen, the predictable Bret Stephens and the contemptible Steve Bannon are all warning the Democrats: Don’t go too far left! Look what happened to British Labor!
Rubbish. Yes, there are observable parallels between British and American politics today, but let’s not ignore the huge differences.
First, as polarized as we are in the US, there is no single issue—not even the person of D.J. Trump—that has crystalized political differences here the way Brexit has in Britain. Labor’s turn to the left was undoubtedly a factor in the election, but it was far overshadowed by Brexit.
Second, there is no Democratic politician who has anything like the pile of negatives that attach to Jeremy Corbyn; nor is any Democrat—not even Bernie Sanders—advocating a program as radical as Corbyn’s.
Apart from the similarities in the right-wing leaders in the two countries, the obvious parallel is in Labor’s loss of support in its traditional strongholds in England’s industrial heartland, recalling the Democrats’ loss of the white working class in the rustbelt. But the movement of the American white working class to the GOP has been going on for decades. It has little or nothing to do with Democrats’ progressive economic policies. The conversion of the British working class—if it is that—is a recent phenomenon, largely a function of Brexit polarization.
Don’t get me wrong–I’m not taking a position on whether the Democrats need to go left or stay centered in 2020. There will be more on that in my next post. But let’s beware of specious comparisons of what happened in Britain this week and current US politics.