Corbyn’s supporters cannot look on the bright side of events in the US

The left has been here before: it hoped the 2008 financial crisis would be a 'progressive moment'

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The Independent Online

Allies of Jeremy Corbyn were quick to spot a silver lining in Donald Trump’s victory. If Trump could win on an insurgent, anti-establishment ticket, then Mr Corbyn, another outsider, could also defy the opinion polls and win a general election, they argued. They said Trump's win heralded the collapse of the “elitist liberal centre”.

Emily Thornberry, the shadow Foreign Secretary, noted: “There are hundreds and thousands energised by Jeremy Corbyn being the leader of the Labour Party, so there are some similarities.”

The similarities are strictly limited. Mr Corbyn was on stronger ground when he argued in a speech on Saturday: “In both countries, people feel left behind: marginalised and disrespected by an economic system that makes them work harder for less, while hoovering up ever greater rewards for a small elite. People are right to be angry: our failed economic system is delivering falling living standards and rising inequality.”

While admitting that Trump “tapped into real problems”, the Labour leader said the President-elect offered no real solutions, only “someone to blame” – often immigrants. On the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Mr Corbyn told the President-elect to “grow up” and to stop being “abusive” towards immigrants and Muslims, adding that the family of his Mexican wife felt “outrage and anger” at Mr Trump’s plan to build a wall along the southern US border.

Mr Corbyn was right to say that Trump’s “xenophobia and intolerance” must be challenged. But his attack was a reminder that, for all the Labour attempts to find useful parallels, the party has nothing in common with Trump’s values.

Mr Corbyn’s supporters cannot really look on the bright side of events in the US. The left has been here before: it hoped the 2008 financial crisis would be a “progressive moment”. Since then, we have seen Labour lose power, a majority Conservative government elected, the vote for Brexit, and now Trump. The left is in trouble across Europe.

Theresa May has already made the “just managing” classes her top priority and in her first foreign affairs speech on Monday, the Prime Minister will argue that the less well off must benefit as well as the rich and powerful for globalisation and liberalism to survive. But she has not yet lived up to her rhetoric and may, for example, dilute her plans to put workers on company boards. In many ways, Mr Corbyn is a more likely figure to impose reforms on big business and tackle inequality.

Yet while Ed Miliband’s diagnosis of the post-crash injustice was right, he now accepts that the reason he didn't win last year was because voters wanted reassurance on the economy, as well as radical solutions. It is a message that Mr Corbyn should take to heart.

Mr Miliband and Labour figures including Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit Secretary, argue that one lesson from the EU referendum is that immigration must be reduced. On this issue, Messrs Corbyn and Trump could hardly be further apart. On the Marr show, the Labour leader said immigration would fall as a side effect of his policies to tackle labour market abuses. But he refuses to make lower immigration a firm policy objective or commitment.

His defence of immigrants and the vital role they play on both sides of the Atlantic is laudable and Labour should not pander to prejudice in the way some Conservatives and Ukip do. But to have any chance of putting his ideas into practice, Corbyn will have to close the gap between him and Labour’s traditional working class supporters. Many want reassurance on immigration as well as the economy. The Brexit vote shows that Labour cannot take them for granted or assume they have “nowhere else to go”. Corbyn will not win power by preaching to the middle class converted.

The era of what is being called “post-truth politics”, where a convincing narrative matters more than arguments based on facts, is a huge challenge for left-of-centre parties across the world. However strong Labour’s arguments, Corbyn will have to find new language to convey them.

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