A Turn to the Left

Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders, and the politics of hope and change

by Maurice H. Alexander

What do Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn have in common? All the more surprising because they’re both self-described “social democrats”, these seasoned political veterans also share a sweeping rise to national popularity. Bernie Sanders in the United States and Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom have both campaigned for the highest office in their nations from far left of what used to be the acceptable political spectrum. Where did this support come from and what might be some of the reasons for it?

At the beginning of this September, Jeremy Corbyn swept the Labour leadership race, winning on the first round by capturing over 59 percent of the vote against his rivals Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper, who respectively came in at only 19 percent and 17 percent. This was after a tight race that started with him getting on the ballot at the final minute and being given 1 in 200 odds of winning the race by most bookies in the U.K. In the span of only three months, Jeremy Corbyn went from being a long-shot outsider candidate to taking leadership of the country’s Official Opposition.

Throughout the race there were concerns within the Labour party that members of other parties such as the Green Party might register to vote for Corbyn, as this election included a new category of members, so-called registered supporters, who paid a mere £3 to join. In June the Telegraph published an article urging conservatives to register to vote for Corbyn “to consign Labour to electoral oblivion”. There was a swell in registered voters, raising Labour’s total number of supporters by over 100,000. However, this led to Labour rejecting many of their new registrants. The number of those rejected would eventually reach 56,000, around 9 percent of the 610,753 considered eligible at the start of the contest. Yet according to the party, 45,000 of those were rejected for not being on the electoral register.

But Corbyn didn’t only win on the basis of this groundswell of new Labour members; he won by a large margin amongst all categories of voters—members, registered supporters, and affiliated supporters—giving him a clear mandate. This was also a large leadership election for Labour, with a turnout of 76.3 percent of the 554,272 eligible members, making it also the U.K.’s largest-ever online ballot.
This surge in support runs counter to and contradicts the previous party line that Labour lost the last general election because …

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