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Published: May 15, 2015 Last modified: May 13, 2015
While progressive Brits donned sackcloth and ashes at the prospect of another five years of David Cameron, there were some signs of rationality across the Atlantic. The same week, in New York, Dina Richardson, the candidate for the Working Families Party won a seat on the State Assembly from the Democrats – on a platform that included refusing to take any election donations from the real estate interests who tend to buy candidates and elections in the city.
In Alberta, the National Democratic Party had a landslide victory in the provincial elections. Alberta is Canada’s oil-rich equivalent of Texas. Based on ranching and oil, the province has been consistently conservative in its voting and has been a power base for Stephen Harper, the Conservative Prime Minister who has so successfully sullied Canada’s international reputation and has been busily trying to undo Canada’s welfare state.
The victory of the charismatic new NDP premier Rachel Notley confounds the pundit drive to the centre. It is true that the NDP, the party which dragged Canada into the civilised world with its single payer health service, has been influenced by the siren calls of the centre, but it has to a large extent resisted them.
After all, the Liberals were already there in the centre, so instead of a New Labour-style stampede to the right, the NDP had to find the sweet spot between attracting a majority and distinguishing itself from the Liberals. The Alberta result suggests it was successful. It was elected with calls for abolishing Alberta’s regressive flat tax and by challenging the various neoliberal economic shibboleths that have swept the industrialised world.
Many commentators compared the effect to Bernie Sanders winning Texas. Which leads gently to the self-avowed Socialist Senator announcing his bid in the Democratic primary against Hillary Clinton. The former first lady is being treated as the heir apparent for the nomination with, so far, little opposition from traditionally ambitious Democrats. For the right wing, the hatred for her is all-consuming. If you read their commentary, you would assume that she was on the verge of socialism. Such rumours are even less well-founded than those about Ed Milliband’s Bolshevism.
She is, in fact ,a comfortably corporate conservative, like her husband. While his manoeuvres looked like weak wobbles and she looks tough and decisive, for both of them the technique is the same. Getting votes from ordinary people by “feeling their pain” while inflicting that pain themselves on behalf of all the corporate donors.
So Hillary is presenting herself as deeply concerned with ordinary “middle class” voters as the Americans put it. But in reality, like Bill before, the campaign is shaking down corporate donors – who do not give money without expectations of adequate returns.
Hillary is raking in cash as fast as the bankers can write her cheques, and not releasing their names, even as she calls for a constitutional amendment to reduce the power of money in politics.
Bernie Sanders takes the Democratic whip in the Senate where he represents Vermont. But there is nothing in the rules to stop him running in a primary as the Democratic candidate – indeed, he could run for Republican primary! While the mainstream depicts him as the wild leftist, his reasonable analysis actually appeals to many ordinary Americans.
He is under attack on the left for not trying to break the two party tyranny in American politics but by standing in the Democratic primary, he can put forward his unabashed democratic socialist views much more effectively. Clinton is already trying to throw sops to the left of the Democrats because in the primary at least, she knows that is where she is vulnerable to attack. Then she would veer comfortably right in the general election in office. For the Clintons, like Tony Blair, the purpose of politics is to get them in office, no matter the cost to others.
Looking at this in the context of the line-up of yesterday’s men calling for a return to the centre for the Labour Party, one can see how much more adroit are the tactics of the Clintons, who at least pretend to cater to their core voters, compared with New Labour arrogance that lost us Scotland and the election. The Labour Party might do well to emulate Sanders and Notley not Blair and Peter Mandelson if it wants to return to power.