What the Democrats Could Learn from Labour

The Democrats are currently in the process of mulling over a rebellion against the president over trade deals with partners off our two shores: the TTIP agreement with Europe and the TPP with Asia.

Many will feel this potential turn to the political left is a long needed change from the policies of the last two Democrat presidents. Despite years of conservative hyperbole under Obama, the current occupant of the White House has mostly continued the decades-long stretch of moderation for his party. And with Hillary Clinton on the horizon, there’s a fear it will stretch on another eight years at least.

Those further to the left often feel their party have let them down on key issues. The Democrats, they feel, touch the big industries with soft kid gloves, make rare and ineffectual attempts at gun control or prison reform, and support war whenever it polls well. Even the signature achievement of the American Left in the last three decades — the passage of Obamacare — was at least somewhat a reworking of an old conservative plan.

American liberals seem to have finally become disillusioned by this trend and are in the first steps of making war on the establishment. The rise of combative figures like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders within the party and in the general media shows how far this movement has come. We’re still far away from a revolution the likes of the Tea Party, but moderates will ignore this trend at their own peril. Judging by Clinton’s opening bid for the nomination, she seems to have little else on her mind.

But as much as the party’s moderate, business-friendly streak can be taxing to those with a little more distance from center, they would do well to read the cautionary tale of Britain’s Labour party to see what happens when a moderates drift back to the left.

Many Brits have spent years disgusted by their major liberal party, Labour, or its reincarnation under Tony Blair, New Labour. Blair found the key to making Labour electable, jettisoning the more unappealing policies and stealing the more reasonable economic ones from their conservative competition, the Tories. Victories in 1997, 2001, and 2005 — the first for Labour in decades — quieted those who were uncomfortable with this shift. But with the debacle of the Iraq War, the explosive economic destruction of the recession, and the underwhelming unpersonality of Blair’s successor Gordon Brown, New Labour found itself under attack by the allies of old, liberal, election-losing Labour.

That faction won out after Brown failed to beat the Tory’s David Cameron in 2010. In the battle of its soul, Labour watched the marvelously symbolic competition of two brothers New Labour David and Old Labour Ed. Ed, in the end won.

And then, last week, lost. Devastatingly. It seems Britain continued to find real liberalism not interesting at all. For the first time in more than a century, a ruling party increased its seats in parliament after an election. Meanwhile, Labour lost seats, even a number that were considered safe (such as that held by Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Ed Balls) because liberal Scotland turned out to be more interested in voting for national politics than liberal ones.

Liberal Labour now finds itself in tatters with no leader, no identity, and a long five years that could see Scotland vote to leave (again) and a vote to leave the European Union. In a vital election, Labour swung left, and it swung out.

So, where does that leave Democrats? It’s healthy for a party to disagree, to have multiple perspectives on where to go. And while Warren may be right about the new trade treaty Obama has been working on and is certainly right about other issues such as the importance of really addressing student debt, it is worth remembering that America is not represented by the left just as it isn’t represented by the Tea Party. Victory in Britain or America comes from the middle. David Cameron taught that to the Tories and will now have at least ten years to stamp his vision on the nation. Democrats n


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