Coverage of the supposed spat between Jeremy Corbyn and Barack Obama should provide an epitaph for simplistic transatlantic correlations.
During his popular bi-weekly podcast, former Obama strategist David Alexrod asked whether the President was ‘worried about the Corbynization of the Democratic Party’. The reply was that he wasn’t, and that the Democrats had ‘stayed pretty grounded in fact and reality’. Corbyn was quick to respond, using the Trumpian approach of Twitter to assert that ‘Labour & Democrats will have to challenge power to speak for working people & change a broken system that isn’t delivering for the majority’. He continued with a list of policy commitments, including a ‘fully funded NHS’ and ‘no illegal wars’, before concluding that ‘[f]or the establishment, those ideas are dangerous. For most people in Britain, they’re common sense – and grounded in reality.’
However, Obama’s references to Corbyn were minimal: a couple of prompted mentions at the end of a wide-ranging hour-long interview. More significant than any implicit criticisms of Labour, seemed Obama’s keenness to play down tired and inaccurate comparisons between Corbyn and Bernie Sanders, and to state the electoral necessity of winning an ‘emotional connection’ with non-typical voter bases. He also gave historical Republican Party context to the rise of Trump — a welcome alternative to the flawed ease of the ‘American Brexit’ analysis.
Aside from broad basics, exact correlations are rare between the internal politics of completely individuated nations. And for all America and Britain share a united history and incomparable alliance, that truth is epitomised by the differences between these two nations, in terms of their political structures and narratives, size, demographics, and so much besides.
Moreover, unlike stricter ideological movements, conservatism is highly situational. That means that, where it is applied well, it can adapt to fit national needs and local expediency. Political movements’ varying degrees of adaptability is but one reason why many deem right- and left-wing descriptors increasingly insufficient — beyond use as vague markers — in delineating allegiances. With regards to British-American parallels, this is easily pointed up by Obama’s support for Cameron during the EU referendum campaign. It is also exemplified by the lack of a standard frame of reference for Donald Trump’s overall approach, so far.
Politics is ever complicated, and the countries of our world, for all their increased connections, remain ever varied. Overstated and unsubstantiated correlations are lazy and unhelpful. As we head into the unknowns of 2017, to face unprecedented national and international challenges and opportunities, the need only grows for nuance and carefully-directed consideration.
Corbyn has proven, yet again, that he doesn’t get this. The Axelrod interview shows that Obama does. What about May?