Why a Great Corbyn Campaign Is Good News for Bernie Sanders

by Jake Woodier

30 November 2019

With the UK hurtling towards a general election in under two weeks time, all eyes are on the political manoeuvring of the parties vying to form the next government. This election will be carefully watched not just here in the UK, but by many across the Atlantic. The result has the potential to be far-reaching for the progressive people-powered movement seeking to put Congressman Bernie Sanders into the White House, given the dual-track of electoral processes taking place at such a crucial time.

Previous months and years have been mired by a Brexit impasse in Britain, political inertia, a massive rollout of austerity and unfathomable inaction to tackle the climate crisis. The Conservatives are offering a continuation of neoliberal policy, further deregulation and abandonment of hard-won workers’ rights and environmental standards in a shabby Brexit deal designed to curry favour with Donald Trump. The Liberal Democrats have been hedging bets that their “remain or bust” narrative will override concerns surrounding their lack of environmental commitment and the uninspiring economic policies unveiled in their manifesto. Meanwhile, though Labour started the campaign far behind the Conservatives in the polls, Jeremy Corbyn’s party is offering the most radical and transformative political programme in a generation.

Designed to tackle the climate and ecological crises while addressing widespread social inequality, the Labour manifesto offered inspiration at a crucial juncture in the election. Recent polling suggests widespread support for ambitious targets to eliminate emissions, with a majority of voters indicating climate will influence how they vote. Running parallel, a global scientific consensus pronounces increasingly stark warnings about irreversible and disastrous climate breakdown. The Green New Deal put forward in the manifesto could be the antidote to such interlinked crises. Radical by nature, such a set of policies would act as a national action plan to rapidly eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, transform the economy to one which is fit for the future, and dramatically improve people’s lives in the process.

A successful Corbyn-led Labour campaign embodying this agenda could also ignite a spark that provides fresh inspiration to the grassroots Democratic movement and therefore Sanders run at the presidency in late 2020. For the first time in a long time, there are significant social forces on both sides of the Atlantic working to build a cross-pollinating international movement, while also waging their own campaigns embodying a major push-back against the forces of far-right neoliberal capital. 

For instance, the Green New Deal, first conceived in the UK in 2008 but overshadowed by the global financial crash, has since been translated into the radical ambition of community organising by US youth organisation the Sunrise Movement. It has then progressed to be championed at the top of the political echelons by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and presidential hopeful Sanders. In turn, the momentum created in the US has inspired movements in the UK, notably Labour for a Green New Deal, which organised around the radical plan and won groundbreaking support at Labour party conference. Similarly, the headline grabbing actions of the Sunrise Movement have inspired the emergent Green New Deal UK and climate strike movements on both sides of the Atlantic. This has seen synergies and moments of collaboration across the labour and climate movements throughout the past year, vital in creating a political landscape in which radical policies are viewed as necessary and inspiring solutions.

One such example is Labour’s transformative Warm Homes for All policy, the “largest scale upgrade of UK housing since post-war reconstruction”. With promises of mass job creation and installation of renewable and low carbon energy-saving measures in the entire housing stock, the plans estimate average household energy savings of £400 a year. Massively significant for the millions on low incomes in the UK. The policy goes further, in promising to mostly eradicate the scourge of fuel poverty by the mid-2020s in a country where the issue is rife. In the following week, Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez unveiled the Green New Deal for Public Housing Act aimed at decarbonising the entirety of public housing in the United States. Sounds familiar right? The act echoes Labour’s vision, with commitments to the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs, and to create “comfortable, safe, beautiful, and sustainable” public housing. The synergy between benefiting those on no or low incomes living in poor quality housing, while drastically reducing emissions, is indicative of the ambitious vision. Both are the Green New Deal in action, and exactly the tonic to inspire activists on the ground.

Reading the Momentum Plan to Win, similarities between the Corbyn and Sanders approaches are evident, even aside from their ability to motivate vast numbers of people to campaign on the doorstep. One example is the significant emphasis placed on delegating responsibility to volunteers to take leading roles in campaigning, rather than assigning them menial tasks as in years gone by. This volunteer-driven, distributed approach was widely credited with causing the shock upset that denied the Conservatives an outright majority in the 2017 election. Fast forward two years and the strategy has been refined. Making use of new tactics like the Labour Legends initiative calling for volunteers to take time off work for campaigning, the space for new leaders to emerge and drive momentum forward is clear. Furthermore, an updated My Campaign Map tool which directs grassroots energy to where it’s needed most draws clear similarities with the Bernie Map used by activists in the US.

With ambitious policies spanning the entirety of the economy, we’re seeing everyday people becoming campaigners, joining union organisers and party volunteers seeking to harness this energy into meaningful electoral gains. From housing to climate, to public services and healthcare, people are finding new inspiration to pound the pavement and get excited for an economy that works differently. Offering transformative and meaningful change is the route to capture the imagination of an electorate that has been treated with contempt by the forces of neoliberal capital for decades. Moreover, the potential ramifications of such change, to inspire a transatlantic movement with the power to push for and ultimately win wide-scale change are huge.

Crucially, the excitement and envelope-pushing tactics behind the movements now need to translate to real change at the ballot box. Corbyn and Sanders have a long track record of progressive politics, though historically at the fringes. However, they now emerge not only as hopeful, but viable candidates for the top job in both countries. Both campaigns have been characterised by a focus on movement building, a rejection of the corporate political model and a different vision for the future and that’s why Corbyn’s run for Government will be carefully watched by the Democratic hopeful. What happens in the UK can provide valuable lessons to a Sanders campaign-machine built upon innovation, technology and the ability to adapt. There’s a long way to go yet, but as economist Grace Blakely said, we could see ‘Corbyn by Christmas, and Sanders by Summer’.

Jake Woodier is a climate campaigner and organiser with Green New Deal UK. 

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