On Thursday, Bernie Sanders will travel to England for sold-out speaking engagements to boost Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party’s candidate for prime minister in the snap election scheduled for June 8. Corbyn is surging in British polls, and running a populist campaign that pledges radical economic reform.
The tides of British and American politics often rise and fall together. Conservative Margaret Thatcher’s rise to power in Britain was followed one year later by the stunning victory of her “political soulmate” Ronald Reagan. The two launched the modern conservative era, declaring, in Thatcher’s famous formulation, that “There is no alternative.”
The 1992 victory of Bill Clinton’s New Democrats was echoed by the rise of Tony Blair’s New Labour four years later. The 2016 Brexit revolt against immigration and the European Union was followed five months later by Donald Trump’s stupefying victory in the US election. And the Sanders surge is now echoed by Jeremy Corbyn’s astonishing rise from the ashes in the British election.
In April, with the Labour Party imploding, Tory Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election because she was certain the Tories would expand their majority in Parliament. Early polls showed her beating Corbyn by 21 percentage points or more. Corbyn was ridiculed in the press, reviled by Labour’s Blairites, and deemed a potential “disaster” as prime minister by over half of British voters in a May poll. As a leader of a party whose establishment loathed him, Corbyn floundered. May, in haunting echo of the Hillary Clinton campaign, made character the centerpiece of her campaign, parading herself as “strong and stable” in contrast to the radical incompetence of her opponent.
Then the 2017 Labour Party Manifesto, “For the Many, Not the Few,” leaked to the press. A full throated, 24,000-word populist agenda, it was mocked as a “suicide note” by The Economist. The manifesto pledged to provide the equivalent of an economic bill of rights to guarantee basic security for workers—from education to housing to retirement security. It also outlined a plan to nationalize key utilities, thereby reversing the privatizations that have been driving up costs.
Corbyn’s plan would hike the minimum wage to the equivalent of $15 an hour, prohibit on-call employment contracts, ban unpaid internships, and bolster the ability of unions to organize. Labour also pledged to build public housing, make university tuition free, provide free childcare for children over 2, invest billions into improving public schools, and serve free school meals for every child in primary school. Pensions would be guaranteed, the National Health Care Service would be bolstered, and welfare cuts reversed.