Extremism is bad for democracy

By Mitchell Blatt
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, August 21, 2015
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Like the Republican Party in the U.S., the Labor party in Britain has been battered in recent national elections. Polls show MP Jeremy Corbyn, member of the Socialist Campaign Group and leader of the Stop the War Coalition, leading the race for Labor party leader with over 50 percent of the vote, despite warnings from elder statesmen that he would be a disaster for the party.

Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair's chief spokesman during two of his three terms in office, advocated "Anyone But Corbyn," with Blair himself claiming the Labor party to be in mortal danger.

Some would argue that Laborists would be wise to listen to the longest-serving Labor Prime Minister in history. When Blair won the party leadership post, the party was struggling with the same issues of leftism vs. moderate reformism. He led Labor to victory after three terms of Margaret Thatcher and one of John Major.

Corbyn, on the other hand, promises to reverse the proven success of the Blairists, both symbolically and practically. In 1995, Blair was successfully able to do something that Hugh Gaitskell failed to do in 1959: modify the socialistic Clause IV of their party constitution, which had been dragging them down like a weight. At the time, the clause called for "the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange."

Corbyn, in an interview with the Independent, said, "I think we should talk about what the objectives of the party are, whether that's restoring clause IV as it was originally written or it's a different one."

His prescriptions ignore the lessons of the past election when Labor lost because it was too far left. Like Corbyn, then leader Ed Miliband won the previous party leadership election with the backing of unions, and Corbyn is even farther to the left than Miliband. Labor MP Jon Cruddas released the results of a poll he commissioned that found that the British public values cutting the deficit higher than fighting austerity. Radical Laborists seem to want to double down on the very things that cost them the last election, rather than accept the facts as they've been shown to be.

Even warnings from more moderate Labor members might backfire, as many of Corbyn's voters distrust the establishment. Alistair Campbell, on his personal blog, admitted he's aware that warning against Corbyn's election might "have precisely the opposite of the effect I hope it has." He maintains, however, that if an out of control car is careening towards a cliff, he has a duty to try to stop it.

In his view, Corbyn is "tapping into some people's disappointment … [for] not changing the country as much as they wanted it be changed." This, too, sounds like Trumpists and Tea Partiers outraged that the Republican Party was unable to repeal Obamacare in 2013 while they were in the minority.

Case in point, many Corbyn supporters admit that he might lose the general election but that they would rather fight for his unapologetic socialism than for a watered down version. The problem is that a political party can't get any of the things they want done without power. In supporting Corbyn and guaranteeing another Conservative victory, Labor would be giving up before the election ever takes place.

Hardcore activists who are blind to reality have burrowed themselves into the fabric of their party. Blair wrote in The Guardian regarding Corbyn's supporters, "The truth is they don't really think it matters whether Labor wins an election or not. Some actually disdain government."

The Tea Party has similarly brought a lot of new activists into the Republican Party in America. New members, who may be less familiar with the political process and certainly less invested in the history of their party, are less likely to listen to authorities and may be less informed about politics. It is a necessity for a party to build membership, but the new members need to be assimilated. If too many come at one time and do not try to learn, that could push a party to the extremes.

Ultimately it is bad for democracy, because if one of the major parties nominates someone who is unelectable, the other party can win without a fight. As in economics, competition is necessary for a free democracy to function properly.

The author is a columnist with China.org.cn. For more information please visit:


Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.

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