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*A version of this newsletter written by Shadowproof’s Kevin Gosztola was sent out on December 14.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s drubbing in the United Kingdom election has many neoliberal politicians and media pundits claiming the outcome is a warning to Democrats, like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
Certainly, there are lessons to be learned, given how massive Conservative Party Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his party’s victory was over Labour. Yet, it is not directly analogous to the upcoming 2020 presidential election against President Donald Trump.
Joe Biden, a former vice president and presidential candidate, seized the moment. “Look what happens when the Labour party moves so, so far to the left. It comes up with ideas that are not able to be contained within a rational basis quickly.”
Al From, founder of the Democratic Leadership Council, said, “I do think that they represent an ideology that is going to be hard for a lot of American swing voters to accept, and that’s a danger.” (From represents the faction of Democrats who sold the working class out and catered to right-wing business interests in the 1990s.)
Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who now works for a Wall Street investment firm, suggested, “You have to have a candidate and a message that’s close to the zeitgeist of the moment—not just a grab bag of giveaways.”
The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board called the outcome “Britain’s Red Alert For Democrats.” It insisted, “Not since 1935 has a Labour candidate fallen so flat with voters, and the reasons are a warning to America’s Democrats.”
“The collapse of Labour’s working class vote is the main explanation for Mr. Johnson’s win, and the main story of the election,” the WSJ Editorial Board added.
The New York Times incorporated this framing into their coverage, and conservative columnist Bret Stephens argued this shows opposing Trump with “Corbynite candidates and progressive primal screams” will “ensure his re-election.”
As Grace Blakeley summarized for Jacobin, Labour once championed financial globalization, and following the 2008 economic crash, “The costs of the banks’ excesses were imposed on working people up and down the country, but particularly in the regions where the impact of austerity was most severe.”
Working people voted for Brexit—leaving the European Union—to send a message to the political establishment. “In 2017, Labour came close to victory by acknowledging this anger and transforming it into a movement to upend the status quo through a deep transformation of the economy.”
”To make people vote again before the decision of the first has been implemented would be a travesty of democracy and do serious damage to the social contract of our society,” Mansfield wrote.
As Blakeley described, “Among the general public, 60 percent of people support Labour’s broadband policy, 64 percent support renationalizing the railways, and 63 percent support a Green New Deal.”
It was not policy but rather the political response to Brexit that fueled Johnson’s thumping of Corbyn. And, even Emanuel conceded, “I get it that Brexit was an overpowering issue.”
One could argue the Democratic Party already experienced a defeat similar to the thrashing Labour received and that happened in 2016. Trump’s victory was a caution to conservative Democrats, who aligned with business forces, pushed destructive free trade agreements, backed welfare repeal legislation, fueled the rise of mass incarceration and criminalization of communities, and slashed millions of dollars in social programs, like Medicare and Medicaid.
Notably, the flawed comparisons between the U.K. election and the upcoming 2020 election come from the very people responsible for the political climate that fueled Trump’s rise to power.
“The notion that Donald Trump could benefit from the same forces that gave the Leave proponents [Brexit] a majority in Britain should sound an alarm for the Democratic Party in the United States,” Sanders wrote in 2016, following Hillary Clinton’s defeat. “Millions of American voters, like the Leave supporters, are understandably angry and frustrated by the economic forces that are destroying the middle class.”
That said, what is important to learn from the U.K. election is month after month of relentless smears from the Israel lobby, the military and intelligence agencies, neoliberals, and right-wing conservatives will take their toll, especially if a candidate does not forcefully reject those smears.
There were never any clear examples of anti-Semitism put forward. Ask many voters in the U.K., and the vast majority will not be able to say exactly what they mean by anti-Semitism. Nevertheless, it eventually became accepted by the electorate that Corbyn and Labour had an anti-Semitism problem.
Corbyn became more and more unpopular as a result of “a sustained campaign of character assassination in [nearly] every U.K. tabloid, mainstream newspaper, and otherwise respectable publications,” David Adler wrote for In These Times.
Soon it was conventional wisdom in the U.S. media that Corbyn has an anti-Semitism problem. For example, Bret Stephens participated in this character assassination the day of the election, declaring a vote for Corbyn was a vote for anti-Semitism.
This is a lesson for Sanders to not give any credence to any smear merchants, who peddle false anti-Semitism smears.
Noah Rothman, who is a contributor for the right-wing publication, Commentary, as well as MSNBC and NBC News, tweeted on December 13, “Campaign reporters, please ask Bernie when you get the chance about his apparent tolerance for the occasionally anti-Semitic indulgences of his surrogates and staff. It’s important.”
“Anyone who accuses Bernie Sanders of being anti-Semitic is a complete asshole. Full stop,” replied David Sirota, a speechwriter for Sanders.
The same day, the Washington Examiner also tried to replicate a smear campaign that worked in the UK. “Bernie Sanders may be ethnically Jewish, but his campaign is rapidly turning out to be the most anti-Semitic in decades.”
“Bernie is a Jewish person fighting Trump’s hate-filled ideology. His family was murdered in the Holocaust because they were Jewish,” Sirota immediately responded. “As a Jewish person, my response to this is simple: anyone accusing Bernie of anti-Semitism—and anyone publishing this shit—is a total asshole.”
Notice the absence of any qualifiers. There is no, “Obviously, the campaign condemns all forms of anti-Semitism, but this is absolute bullshit.”
In the U.K., elites succeeded in smashing a candidate who was capable of challenging their neoliberal agenda of austerity for the poor and working class. They staved off the threat of a socialist prime minister by pushing a sustained campaign of character assassination against Corbyn.
Those in the U.S., who do not want Sanders to threaten their wealth or power, have taken note of what was achieved across the pond. They will waste no time in trying to duplicate this success while they can still prevent Sanders from winning the Democratic Party’s nomination.
The only way to prevent the poisoning of an election from creating a similar outcome is to pay close attention to media coverage. Reject all smears aimed at destroying the left before they gain any steam.