Parts of UK left risk repeating Hillary Clinton’s mistakes that let Trump win. Sanders shows how to communicate with working-class voters
The confirmation of Boris Johnson’s status as front-runner in the Tory leadership race, when his 114 nominations – almost three times that of his nearest rival Jeremy Hunt – has the left rightly looking to attack Johnson’s credibility. There is no shortage of material.
But the UK left risks making a similar error to those committed by Hillary Clinton against Donald Trump – attacking Johnson on the areas that most offend them, while Johnson’s appeal and message bypasses them entirely.
Clinton used three main tacks against Trump:
- Trump is a sex pest
- Trump is a racist
- Trump only serves the rich
Criticisms of Johnson along these lines are entirely merited – as they were about Trump – but risk failing to find traction with the large section of the population primarily looking for a candidate who seems to address their concerns directly.
By contrast, Bernie Sanders’ 2019 campaign against Trump – and for the Democrat nomination to fight him – use an entirely different tone and route, as this campaign video published in April shows:
Sanders addresses Trumps racism but, like the rest of his message, it is framed around meeting the felt needs of working-class people, in their language and on their terms – and highlighting Trump’s failure to live up to his promises. Sanders doesn’t castigate them for believing Trump – he takes over those promises and Sanders’ supporters show how he has what those watching really need.
The same lesson is on show in this country in the failure of remain campaigners to reach, let alone convince, working-class leave voters. On the contrary, by talking down to them and insulting both their intelligence and their integrity, remainers alienated many working-class people and entrenched them as opponents.
Those same people, angered by the dismissive attitude of the ‘elite’ telling them they are fools or bigots, are likely to be receptive to Johnson’s pitch in the early stages at least – unless the left learns and bypasses him to reach people, instead of allowing him to bypass us.
Ironically, one politician who has shown one good example of the right approach this week has been Jess Phillips. Left-wingers rightly point out Phillips’ many flaws – but in at least one tweet she engaged with working-class people in terms they would relate to and showed how Johnson is a fraud:
Labour supporters need to learn the Sanders lesson and do likewise. Johnson’s weaknesses, such as the funding he receives from health privatisers and his privileged background, are many. If we learn from Sanders and talk to working-class people about what matters to them, Johnson’s lack of authenticity will be his undoing – and Corbyn’s abundance of it will see him in Downing Street.
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