Lessons for Dems from the UK election: Don't nominate Jeremy Corbyn or waffle on Brexit

Lessons for Dems from the UK election: Don't nominate Jeremy Corbyn or waffle on Brexit
Royalty-free stock photo ID: 1285916578 LONDON, UK - JANUARY 15, 2019: Brexit suporters, brexiteers, in central London holding banners campaigning to leave the European Union.

Last night was an awful one for the British left as the Tories, led by Boris Johnson--the UK's Donald Trump--romped to their biggest electoral win since the 1980s, according to the exit poll. And this morning, their American counterparts are being forced suffer through a barrage of lazy punditry warning that Democratic primary voters must hew to the center to avoid repeating the Labour Party's errors in 2020. This argument is, in short, idiotic. One can expect it to be widespread.

It's pretty clear that British voters wanted a decisive end to three years of chaos surrounding Brexit, and that propelled Johnson, with his message of "Get Brexit Done," to win a mandate. Labour, on the other hand, never had a clear position on what voters saw as the most important issue of the election. Back in July, Owen Smith, a Labour MP who has been fiercely critical of Corbyn's handling of Brexit, predicted that his party would be crushed "because we prevaricated for so long now that we’ve even got to the stage that I’m not sure people care what our Brexit position is." He said that the electorate had become "used to it being wishy-washy and ill-defined and it seems to be getting more so. I’m a backbench Labour MP and I don’t know what our position is going to be in our manifesto." (In the end, they promised to make a great deal with the EU and then put it to a referendum.)

Kate Proctor, a political reporter for The Guardian, pegged Corbyn's personal brand as the number one reason for Labour's epically poor showing.

After the exit poll came in many candidates said that on the doorstep it was [Corbyn's] lack of popularity that cost them. Corbyn went into the campaign with the lowest net satisfaction ratings of any opposition leader since the late 1970s (Ipsos Mori). Among older voters, Labour campaigners said his past support for the Irish republican movement came up repeatedly on the doorsteps. In London, antisemitism and what people perceived as the absence of an apology appeared to be a key issue. Ruth Smeeth, a longstanding Corbyn critic who expected to lose her Stoke North seat, told Sky News the blame for the predicted result lay with the leader. She said: “His personal actions have delivered this result for my constituents and for swathes of the country overnight.” Toby Perkins, standing in Chesterfield, said the election was tough and in part due to the “monumental unpopularity” of Corbyn.

It's obvious that Democrats should steer clear of nominating a candidate who supported the IRA in the 1970s or has faced charges of anti-Semitism for years. Fortunately, their progressive options in the primary field don't carry that baggage.

As for Labour's agenda, Proctor argues that while it wasn't unpopular, it was too busy.

There was an incredible amount on offer in Labour’s 2019 manifesto It’s Time for Real Change. From free care for the elderly, free university tuition fees, reducing the voting age to 16 and payouts for Waspi women, the party attempted to speak to every sector of society. Some candidates reported that they had so much to rattle through on the doorstep that when new policy ideas dropped halfway through the campaign – such as slashed rail fares – they shied away from discussing them so as not to overload people with commitments. A Labour source said: “It wasn’t that people didn’t like the policies, people thought there was too many of them. The free broadband was really unpopular. We hadn’t spent two years making the case for it and we just dumped it on them … Jon Lansman, leader of the Corbyn campaign group, Momentum, said: “The manifesto was too detailed and too long. It was a programme for 10 years, not for government.”

Elizabeth Warren has certainly dropped a lot of plans during the primaries, but the party's agenda for the general election will be hammered out at its nominating convention. Clearly, they should stick to the issues they've been talking about for years and not drop free broadband into the discussion at the last moment.

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