England & Wales Democracy, devolution and governance

Viewpoint: Corbyn and Trump, who’d have thought it?


What on earth is going on, asks Jane Sankarayya. Something odd that’s for sure, when you can start talking about Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump in the same sentence.

Is it just me or is there some weird ass symmetry shaping up between the Republican presidential candidate race and the Labour leadership contest. It’s a bit like looking in one of those fairground mirrors that throws back a completely distorted image of a massive head with eyes in a chin, long body and tiny little legs.

Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump started out as somewhat irrelevant, joke candidates in their respective fields. Corbyn was there because some in the Labour party felt the need to ‘widen the debate’; Trump was there because…well because he has a ton of money and so can be wherever he wants it would seem.

One has carrier bags full of earnest policies that differ markedly from what other politicians think British voters want to hear; the other has virtually none and thinks that American voters aren’t that bothered about policy anyway. Both were initially not considered serious contenders by their fellow candidates and both are somewhat despised by party bigwigs who find their past associations somewhat hard to stomach: Gordon Brown made not so veiled reference to Corbyn’s relationship with Hamas and Republican grandees are apparently slightly concerned by Trump’s previous support for abortion rights and past donations to the Democrats.

But then something odd and distinctly off message began happening. Both men are now far ahead in their respective polling. Lots of people show up to their rallies and appearances – probably way more to Trump’s, but hey Jeremy Corbyn did manage an overspill from Ealing Town Hall the other day. And they both seem to be generating some interest among more people than would normally be the case in these contests.

Maybe both campaigns have been thriving, at least partly, for similar reasons. Both talk about ‘hope’ and apparently offer something apart from the mainstream political position. Both men and their campaigns make much of being different, being outside the Westminster bubble or not one of the political automatons that run year after year for the White House. Although of course they have both in their own ways been wrapped up in the political mainstream for years.

And finally, of course, the press love both Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn. (The papers here all claim to detest Corbyn but clearly they are loving the show that he is providing). Thousands and thousands of words and hours an hours of TV coverage are being devoted daily to these two men, with the other Labour leadership candidates and Republican runners barely getting a look in.

So let’s walk back into that fairground house of mirrors, or maybe gaze into the fortuneteller’s crystal ball…can we see the mists clearing? Is that President Trump picking up the phone in the White House on 8 May 2020 to call Downing Street and congratulate the new Prime Minister with the neat greying beard?