If 2016 was the year that populist protest triumphed in Britain (Brexit) and the United States (Trump), 2017 is shaping up as the year that political normality reasserts itself. Three events in three different Western democracies confirm that some of the familiar laws of political gravity do still operate.
The most spectacular of the events is unfolding in the United Kingdom. The Conservative party under Prime Minister Theresa May is rolling toward a crushing victory over a Labour party that veered to the hard left under Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn joins radical views and stated sympathies with extremists—IRA, Islamist, and pro-Russian—to a personal befuddlement nicely captured in a Vice documentary that showed him autographing apples in permanent marker to distribute to admirers. (Who wants an autographed apple? You can neither eat it as a snack nor save it as a memento.) The befuddlement might be endearing were it not laid atop a paranoid management team staffed by the hardest of the British hard left. As an incredulous Politico reported of Corbyn’s chief of communications, Seumas Milne:
Milne has made a point of arguing that the number of Stalin’s victims has been greatly exaggerated. His views on global geopolitics represent the worst of unthinking, historically illiterate, and reactionary leftism. The South Ossetia conflict? Not the result of Russian aggression but U.S. interference. Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea? Not Moscow’s fault — it’s all down to Western expansionism. The Islamist extremists who killed British soldier Lee Rigby on the streets of London? Merely the “predicted consequence of an avalanche of violence unleashed by the U.S., Britain and others in eight direct military intervention in Arab and Muslim countries.” From Hugo Chavez to Bashar al-Assad and Vladimir Putin, every dictator and demagogue standing up to so-called U.S. imperialism is a de facto good guy.
Corbyn-led Labour is polling at about 20 percent in the election scheduled for June 8. Ancient Labour redoubts—Scotland, Wales—are suddenly competitive for the Conservatives. Labour insiders reckon that seats last time won by 6,000 votes must be regarded as likely lost; seats won by 8,000 as up for grabs; and seats won by the (by British standards) massive margin of 10,000 still requiring a lot of work.
The center-city constituency of Stoke-on-Trent—a Staffordshire city formerly the capital of the British ceramics industry—has been Labour since it was created in 1950. This time, the Labour MP is running scared. A Guardian video of encounters between pro-Corbyn activists and local working class voters during a February 2017 by-election shows why. A transcript of the key exchange. (LPA = Labour Party activist; PV = Potential Voter.)
LPA: One thing I’d say about Jeremy Corbyn is that he’s quite different from politicians that’ve come before—like, do you know that none of the Labour Party want him, basically, like, to be the leader?
PV: No-one wants him ‘coz he’s a dick.
PV: You know what I mean, like?
LPA: Why do you think that?
PV: Well, he was saying stuff like, ah, he doesn’t wanna use our c-, our Trident missiles and all of that shit.
PV: ‘Coz if someone come over here and started blowing us up, like, what are you gonna do, pour ‘em a cup of tea and be like, “Yeah, crack on.”
LPA: But do you not know that Trident costs, like, six hundred billion pounds, so if we didn’t have Trident, all the things you’ve just said—youth centers, better justice system—
PV: Yeah but the thing is, I don’t actually care, like.
LPA: You do!
PV: But I don’t.
LPA: You do!
If you watch the video, you’ll notice that the activist has a distinctly middle-class accent, and that the potential voter does not, which gives an extra edge to that “you do, I don’t” exchange. Also worth noting is that the Trident program costs nothing like 600 billion pounds: The entire British defense program costs 35 billion pounds per year. The Labour activist would have been more correct had she said, “The Labour parliamentary party do not want him to be leader.” In June 2016, a leadership review was triggered after a dozen frontbenchers resigned and 172 Labour MPs voted no confidence in him. (Only 40 MPs voted to retain him.)