In recent days many people in the mainstream media have started to make the comparison between the vitriolic, right-wing populist Donald Trump, who currently leads the polls for the 2016 GOP Presidential nominee, and veteran socialist campaigner Jeremy Corbyn, who is looking like he may become the next Labour Party leader.
This comparison is false because it attempts to define the populist approach of Trump and the populist approach of Corbyn as the same. The way in which the campaigns are being conducted, the tone of the leaders, and the policies they are suggesting are all being ignored in order to further this lazy assumption.
The defining characteristic of the Trump has been the use of outrageous statements to drive the news cycle thus focussing all attention on him and starving the other candidates of media time. Whereas Trump’s media coverage monopoly has stemmed from bombastic personal attacks, the dominance off the British media by Jeremy Corbyn has largely been a result of other people. The number of stories in the press regarding the Corbyn campaign have largely come from columnists deriding him as an extremist or other more-centrist Labour Party figures giving dystopian warnings of electoral abyss and decades of Tory rule. In addition, a hallmark of the Corbyn campaign, and part of why he appeals to so many voters, is his revulsion of personal attacks in political campaigns.
As well as the type of rhetoric being employed by the two campaigns, the tone of the candidates differs greatly. Trump, as a part of his media persona, is incredibly brash and loud as a way of discouraging people from interrupting him mid-speech. Furthermore he uses language that his campaign is spinning as ‘challenging political correctness’, whereas detractors call it racist and sexist language. Jeremy Corbyn, by contrast, has also attracted many people for not coming across as a stereotypical politician but for the opposite reason; at all times during the campaign Corbyn has been passionate, but dignified and calm, thus appearing to be genuine rather than moulded. To say that the tone of the to campaigns was in any way similar would be a transparent attempt to find a link between two political movements that are tapping into very different forms of populism.
In terms of policy proposals the candidates could not be more ideologically opposed. On immigration Corbyn has called on the UK to be compassionate to the refugees in Calais and to accept them with open arms, whereas Trump has called Mexicans “rapists” and has called on the essential militarization of the US-Mexican border. On foreign policy Mr Trump has called for ground-troops in Iraq to fight ISIS and that the US should fund a third Iraq war by “taking the oil”; Mr Corbyn is a member of the Stop the War Coalition and has publicly supported the idea of Tony Blair being tried for war crimes.
The Islington North MP has spoken out against the power of corporations, calling for increased rates of corporation tax and more regulations; Mr Trump, on the other hand, has said that governments should never raise taxes on the rich and corporations because they will move abroad. Finally Corbyn supports a publicly-funded healthcare system with the NHS integrating health and social care, and an NHS that manufactures its own drugs; at the Republican Primary debate last week Trump disavowed his previous support for a publicly-funded healthcare system in favour of one run for profit by private companies.
Due to the ‘Special Relationship’ between the UK and the USA, I’m not surprised that journalists and commentators are seeking comparisons between the media circus of the US election and the more understated Labour leadership campaign. However, rudimentary research shows that Corbyn’s campaign is tapping into a similar brand of populism, but it is not Trump’s.
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist, in a country where doing so has been electoral suicide, and over the weekend spoke to a crowd that was too big for the venue (around 28,000 people) in Portland, Oregon. Along with Corbyn he wants to end Western interventionist wars, tackle climate change, institute a single-payer healthcare system like the NHS, raise the minimum wage to a living wage, and break up the biggest financial institutions that caused the Global Financial Crisis and the Great Recession. Corbyn is not like Trump, he is like Sanders.
In terms of political commentary I would argue that Anglo-American summits between Sanders and Corbyn would be much more eventful than those between Corbyn and Trump. Naturally the media cannot resist using the latter as a hypothetical because it would be an ideological divide between Britain and the US never seen before. If however the media are unwilling to acknowledge the possibility of a Sanders-Corbyn duo this is because the political and economic consensus of these two countries would be severely changed- a situation that the Establishment in Britain must prevent from being seen as a believable possibility.