LONDON — The British Labour Party went on the attack after President Barack Obama criticized Jeremy Corbyn, the party’s leader.
The spat between high-profile representatives of the two left-leaning parties divided by the Atlantic Ocean comes as Democrats consider their future with President-elect Donald Trump preparing to take office and the GOP in control of Congress and the majority of state legislatures.
During a Dec. 26 appearance on CNN’s “The Axe Files,” host David Axelrod asked Obama if he fears a “Corbynization” of the Democratic Party, which Axelrod defined as the party moving further to the left politically in response to electoral defeat.
“The Labour Party just sort of disintegrated in the face of their defeat and move so far left that it’s, you know, in a very — in a very frail state,” Axelrod suggested.
Obama responded: “I don’t worry about that, partly because I think that the Democratic Party has stayed pretty grounded in fact and reality.”
The outgoing president suggested the Republican Party has moved further to the right over the past decade or two, away from “basic consensus around things like climate change or how the economy works.”
Comparing Corbyn to Bernie Sanders, the senator from Vermont and 2016 Democratic presidential hopeful, Obama continued: “I think people like the passion that Bernie brought, but Bernie Sanders is a pretty centrist politician relative to … Corbyn or relative to some of the Republicans.”
Corbyn, who identifies as a democratic socialist, has repeatedly been compared to Sanders since he was elected to lead the Labour Party in July of 2015. Both are perceived as supporters of socialist policies and opponents of modern neoliberalism, though many would agree with Obama’s assessment that Corbyn’s political views are further to the left. Although Corbyn’s leadership of the party has proven controversial, over 60 percent of party members voted to reelect him in September.
Responding to Obama’s comments and the overall concept of “Corbynization,” a spokesperson for the Labour leader suggested Democrats should embrace a more liberal platform, rather than pursue compromise with Republicans.
“Both Labour and U.S. Democrats will have to challenge power if they are going to speak for working people and change a broken system that isn’t delivering for the majority,” the spokesperson told The Guardian on Dec. 27
The spokesperson continued:
“What Jeremy Corbyn stands for is what most people want: to take on the tax cheats, create a fairer economy, fund a fully public NHS [National Health Service], build more homes and stop backing illegal wars.
For the establishment, those ideas are dangerous. For most people in Britain, they’re common sense and grounded in reality.”
Rather than “Corbynization,” British politics may have suffered from “Americanization” in recent years, as neoliberal initiatives, such as increased privatization of public services and cuts to the social safety net, have become increasingly commonplace. Corbyn’s leadership, by contrast, is widely seen as a rejection of neoliberalism in Britain.
Although Sanders was defeated in the 2016 presidential primaries, analysts like Diane Abbott, a member of Parliament from the Labour Party, suggest that the continued popularity of Sanders and Corbyn represents an ongoing need for progressive, anti-corporate voices in the political arena.
“It would be a mistake for the party establishment on both sides of the Atlantic to dismiss this insurgency, and think that things can return to how they were,” Abbott wrote in The Guardian in August.
Listen to David Axelrod’s interview with President Barack Obama:
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