Breakingviews - Corbyn loss offers economic pointers for Democrats

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn waits for the General Election results of the Islington North constituency to be announced at a counting centre in Islington during Britain's general election, London, Britain December 13, 2019.

LONDON (Reuters Breakingviews) - There’s a read-through from the British election for the one coming up in the United States next year. Straying too far from the centre in an established capitalist democracy is a form of political suicide. Democrats lining up to challenge incumbent Republican President Donald Trump would be well advised to heed the lesson meted out on Thursday to Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Newly re-elected Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s margin of victory is one for the record books. With all but one seat declared, his Conservative Party had garnered 364 seats in the House of Commons, compared with 203 for Labour. That not only gives Johnson a hefty majority, but may even allow him to soften his stance on matters like negotiating a trade deal with the European Union.

The scope of Johnson’s victory is surprising given his low personal ratings. Opinion polls consistently showed that more voters disapproved of the prime minister. In this respect, he resembles his cross-Atlantic ally Trump, whose own rating has been consistently negative since his inauguration, according to polls tracked by FiveThirtyEight.

In that sense, what happened in the United Kingdom was less a Johnson win than a dismal Corbyn failure. Even in a country more sympathetic to social democratic policies than the United States, Corbyn was a step too far. It wasn’t just that he proposed greater government spending paid for by higher taxes. His agenda called for outright nationalisation of swathes of British industry. Corbyn was also further from the mainstream on other matters like security and immigration.

Britain is very different from the United States. The election was dominated by the question of Brexit – and promises by both parties to spend more money on universal healthcare. Corbyn’s attempts to appeal to both supporters and opponents of leaving the EU was no match for Johnson’s simplistic “Get Brexit Done” pledge. That was arguably the big difference with the 2017 election, when Corbyn’s similarly radical domestic agenda attracted more votes.

But the main message is one that Trump’s more left-leaning opponents, like Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren should consider. Swing too far in any one direction and you are liable to scare away the middle, which is always the deciding factor in a general election.


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