The transatlantic political landscape has plenty in common, from Occupy movements to “banker bashing” and recession. But the greatest similarity now is how both countries’ opposition parties – the Republicans in the U.S., Labour in Britain – are in crisis.
Labour is failing to provide a proper opposition or electoral alternative to the neo-liberal Tories, and the Republicans are the terrifying alternative to Obama’s Great Disappointment following the last election. There needs to be greater choice in politics, to tackle the problems left by the dying free market, neo-liberal capitalist system.
Last week David Miliband, Labour Member of Parliament (MP) and brother of the party’s leader, Ed Miliband, wrote an article in the left-leaning publication the New Statesman, claiming Labour must change. “Reassurance Labour feels good,” he said. “But feeling good is not the same as doing good – and it gets in the way when it stops us rethinking our ideas to meet the challenges of the time.”
The “challenges of the time” include a militant Tory government slashing public sector services and jobs, soaring youth unemployment, mass social disaffection (particularly after August’s riots), and the financial sector responsible still largely untouched, unreformed and unbothered. But Blairite Miliband’s opaque language – “modernization” being the classic New Labour moniker – hides a dogged refusal to move leftwards, or properly change.
Meanwhile, leader Ed Miliband has made progressive steps in some of his speeches, but he lacks the strong image, style and rhetoric to ultimately defeat the Eton-born, City-bred slickness of David Cameron. His approval ratings paint a bleak picture. A recent YouGov/Sunday Times poll showed 66% of people thought Miliband was doing his job badly. Now, some union leaders are now preparing for the worst – nine more years of Conservative rule.
The GOP’s quagmire is not dissimilar, albeit it at the opposite end of the political spectrum. Obama is a great orator and actor, which hides his military and economic record – his two greatest contradictions.
The Republican identity crisis comes from an electoral term that has seen the Tea Party radicalize right-wing American politics irreversibly.
And what is the up-shot? The GOP is not offering a realistic, constructive alternative to Obama’s pernicious re-branding of liberal-left Democrat politics. It is offering madness. The ridiculous Newt Gingrich, Goldman Sachs’ man, Mitt Romney, and (while she was still in the race) the downright worrying Michele Bachmann; these candidates are a global laughing-stock.
Just look at Newt Gingrich’s xenophobic, cynical attack on Mitt Romney for speaking French. Despite the idea of a “toxic” Continent, illustrated by Greece in turmoil, Gingrich’s remark has the feel of Bill O’Reilly’s Biblically absurd boycott on France in 2003 for “helping terrorism,” being “anti-American” and generally being effeminate and fond of onions. This is the kind of ridiculous discourse the Republican Party has reduced itself to.
And this is the root of the problem. The parties in power stink. While David Cameron and the Conservative-led coalition government seem annoyingly untouchable in Britain – but how long can that last? – the Democrats have a lot more to answer for. They, like Labour, could take up the mantle of social democracy, harness the grass-roots power of #Occupy and start reforming a Western democracy very much in need. But will they? Probably not.
The result is opposition parties either go mad, or don’t do enough. That needs to change.
Despite years of warning signs, we are finally bearing the sick fruits of a broken transatlantic two-party system. What is needed now is a new choice – a departure from free market capitalism, neo-liberal economics and “austerity.” That got us in to this mess. It is time for the left needs to up the ante.
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