The politics of Britain and the United States are being warped. Centrism is out, anti-establishment populism is in.
The rise of Donald Trump as frontrunner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination is mirrored by the blossoming support for Bernie Sanders, an old school democratic socialist who has gained traction on the left as the Democratic Party’s alternative to Hillary Clinton.
In Britain, Eurosceptic MEP Nigel Farage failed to win a parliamentary seat at May’s general election, however Ukip, the right wing party he leads, trawled more than 4 million votes, up from 900,000 in 2010.
More recently, Jeremy Corbyn, a veteran anti-war socialist, has emerged as favorite to be the next leader of the British Labour Party, garnering robust support from new and existing party members much to the frustration of his centrist rivals.
Yet the move away from conventional politics doesn’t represent a shift by the electorate towards political extremism, rather a growing frustration at the ruling political class. Trump’s June comments calling Mexican’s “rapists” and “murderers”may have split the ears of the groundlings, yet his appeal goes far beyond base nativism.
Trump praised the governments of China and Mexico for being “much smarter” than his own country’s “stupid” leaders. The tycoon’s shtick is to blame the weak establishment — Republicans and Democrats — for not standing up for blue-collar citizens in the face of conniving foreigners.
“Our enemies are getting stronger and stronger by the way, and we as a country are getting weaker,” he said, offering an easy solution — an outsider to stand up for Americans rather than politicians that pander to their own self-interest.
Trump’s cause is aided by his wealth. As he points out, he doesn’t kowtow to donorsunlike his rivals. Yet despite his money, Trump has succeeded in making many Americans feels as though he’d fight for them, not for the corporate interests establishment politicians currently serve.
The property tycoon isn’t the only anti-establishment candidate running for the Republican Party nomination. Former neurosurgeon Ben Carson and Texas Senator Ted Cruz peddle a similar line, excoriating Washington and the leaders of their own party as much as the Democrats. Combined they boast almost 40 percent of current Republican polling.
In the UK, Corbyn’s rise to frontrunner of the Labour Party leadership race comes on the back of his strident opposition to the status quo.
He opposes the welfare cuts imposed by David Cameron’s ruling Conservative Party (reforms the Labour establishment has failed to resist) and favors tax increases on the wealthy. He even wants to renationalize the UK railway system and end Britain’s nuclear deterrent.
Corbyn stands in contrast to the previous leader Ed Miliband, whose half-hearted leftism failed to convince the voters in May, and even more starkly to Tony Blair, who led the party to three successive election victories by deliberately moving the Labour edifice to the center ground.
In the U.S., Sanders has specifically called for an end to “establishment politics,” while highlighting the threat of income inequality and the anti-Democratic influence of corporations.
He wants to increase the minimum wage, provide “tuition free” university courses, increased vacation holiday days, boost mandatory sick pay and offer childcare for working mothers.
That agenda appeals to frustrated Democratic Party supporters who were promised “hope and change” by a supposedly leftist Obama, who instead delivered eight years of centrism, albeit within an administration that pushed through equal marriage and healthcare reform.
In the UK, the popularity of Farage and Corbyn represents a similar rejection of conventionalism, both attracting support from citizens who feel that neither Labour nor the Conservative Party represents them. Members of parliament have become a political class, the only goal of which is to stay in office. They no longer serve their constituents or represent them.
Likewise in the U.S., voters see the Democratic Party and the Republican Party as what Mark Leonard called “appendages of the state,” with senators and representatives reduced to the role of corporate oligarchs.
As Trump said recently, people are tired of “incompetent politicians.” The political class may scoff, but it’s Trump leading the polls and Corbyn set to be the next leader of the British Opposition.