Trump’s shock victory is a test of judgement of politicians as they react and recommend a way forward. I have been pondering Jeremy Corbyn’s. One can only welcome his uncontroversial advocacy of “working together, social justice and economic renewal” as the hallmarks of the alternative world for which he calls us to work, but the accompanying analysis is troublingly sweeping and imprecise.
Corbyn says “Trump’s election is an unmistakable rejection of a political establishment and an economic system that simply isn’t working for most people”. But most Americans voted for Clinton – more than have voted for any other President in history except Obama. Most poorer Americans, for whom the economy works worst, voted for Clinton, not Trump. And most richer Americans voted for Trump. “Unmistakable”? Or a more complex than Corbyn suggests?
“After this latest Global wake-up call”, he continues, “the need for a real alternative to a failed economic and political system could not be clearer”. The rhetoric is revolutionary: what is wrong is the whole failed system, not just a particular set of policies or assumptions about how best to make the system work. So people will think he wants a completely different economic system: but what? Nationalisation of the means of production? Something more like China with human rights? Surely he doesn’t think that changed fiscal and monetary policies, re-nationalisation of the railways and a public investment bank constitute a new economic system?
But it is also the whole political system that he wants to change. What does he mean? The US electoral college system? Representative democracy as practised in the USA, or the UK and Europe? Does he mean the international political order with a relatively weak United Nations? Is he saying that the world, or the UK, should be run by a popular social movement accountable to its members alone rather than the political party system? No more elites? maybe a bit of each?
All this is so unclear that people can think what they like about what he actually means. It puts off those who do not believe in the overthrow of the whole economic and political system and those who distrust sweeping revolutionary rhetoric. We do indeed need a broad coalition standing for “working together, social justice and economic renewal”. But how likely is such a coalition to be built on vague, revolutionary rhetoric?