Yale students should look to the U.K. to see who is going to win the Democratic primary and become the next president. If Jeremy Corbyn wins the general election, Bernie Sanders might be heading for the White House.
Donald Trump said he himself would be “Brexit times five.” And, sadly, he was. But could political influence from the U.K. push American politics in the other direction and, perhaps, at five times the rate?
Britain will vote in just a few weeks to decide its new government — and its next prime minister. Corbyn, a veteran socialist campaigner turned leader of the Labour Party, trails right-wing incumbent Boris Johnson in the polls. Back in 2016, at many points it looked like Trump would lose to Hillary Clinton. And by quite a lot. That was the moment he declared that his election would be “beyond Brexit” and “Brexit plus.” Unusually for Trump, his prediction proved correct.
Why did Donald Trump want to compare his presidential bid to Brexit? Mainly it was to emphasize his own capacity to upset perceived wisdom and successfully challenge a political consensus. But it was also an acknowledgment that international trends had a certain bearing on American political life, that unlikely things happening on one side of the Atlantic might lead to even more unlikely occurrences on the other.
The question — to take Trump’s logic and turn it the other way — is whether an insurgent left-wing candidate winning in Britain could have consequences in the U.S. What would Corbyn “times five” even mean?
There’s no doubt it would help Bernie’s campaign. Although he has been polling very well after his heart operation, his victory as a candidate still feels far from historically inevitable. But with the boost that could come from Corbyn — who bears many aesthetic similarities to Sanders — upending the odds and winning a remarkable victory, perhaps it would galvanize Bernie’s supporters to believe that the cause is not lost. And if there were already one silver-haired leftist running a G8 nation, another socialist around the NATO table, the effect might be contagious.
No student could walk around Yale and not realize the continuing influence Britain has had on American life. This influence is not confined to the — excellent — British Art Gallery; all the residential colleges feel the influence of Oxford and Cambridge. But recently this influence has felt increasingly meager. Brexit has amplified preexisting narratives of British decline. Indeed, the current interest seems now to be flowing in the opposite direction. Many British progressives long for young charismatic politicians as talented and daring as “The Squad,” while it was left to the U.S. magazine Jacobin to rescue and restore Britain’s stalwart left-wing publication The Tribune. Some organizations — the Democratic Socialists of America and Momentum, for example — have even shown that the influence can be more practically symbiotic.
But with a Corbyn victory, influence could start to drift the other way. Corbyn has been labelled all sorts of things: a terrorist, a traitor and most embarrassingly a “great big girl’s blouse” —embarrassing not for Corbyn, but for the misogynist liar who made the insult, Britain’s own penny-Trump Boris Johnson. A Corbyn victory could reignite American interest and enthusiasm for electing a truly progressive candidate. Corbyn’s Labour Party would introduce a Green New Deal and a four-day working week, nationalize the railways, abolish tuition fees and introduce greater worker representation at all levels of corporations. Some of these ideas are considerably beyond the scope of Bernie’s current platform, but with progressive leaders on both sides of the Atlantic, we could see incredible positive social change within years.
The gauntlet has been thrown down. If Corbyn wins on Dec. 12, it should be seen as a challenge for Bernie’s movement to do the same here in America.
And right now, Corbyn is climbing in the polls…
WILLIAM PIMLOTT is a PhD candidate at University College London, on exchange in the History Department at Yale, and a Labour Councillor in the City of London. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .