Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn although poles apart, have nevertheless more in common than Corbyn would like to admit (Trump wouldn’t take Corbyn under his notice). Not as political ideologues but as icons of “authenticity,” that holy grail of reality politics which itself is ironically becoming a marketing category. Authenticity works for Labour’s Alan Johnson because with equal irony, he has resisted attempts to recruit him for the Labour leadership. The message is clear. Authenticity is a quality that thrives best in opposition. Government in the post- ideological age is too darn complicated to allow for its simple appeal.
In the US and the UK the main opposition parties to government are taking radical turns. After years of austerity from all government parties and with little belief in an end in sight, left or right hardly seems to matter. The obvious truism of the need to govern from the centre has eliminated much creative differentiation from the character of politics. See Ed Lucas in he FT (£) on Trump, with those doubtful billions, that doubtful hair and that epic vulgarity. For Trump authenticity is audible dog whistling, further out than the Tea Party.
At first they said Donald Trump would peak in a few days. That was a month ago. Then they said the property tycoon had hit a low double-digit ceiling with a hard core of Republican “crazies”. He is now polling at 24 per cent, which is about the same as the next two (Jeb Bush and Scott Walker) combined.
Attempts to shame Mr Trump could as easily stoke the popular resentment that sustains him.
Nor is it possible to steal Mr Trump’s policy clothes. There is no logic to his platform. Mr Trump’s success is based on the spirit of anti-politics — the dislike of poll-tested campaigns, scripted candidates and the political classes in general. Consistency is a vice. Coherence spells dishonesty.
The latest poll shows that only 8 per cent of Republican graduates support Mr Trump against 32 per cent of those without a degree.
These are the angry swaths of America that feel left behind, belittled and insulted. They want to take their country back but cannot put their finger on what exactly they mean. For them it is evening in America. Nobody argues their case.
Then along comes Mr Trump. Foreigners may be tempted to see him as uniquely American. But he has his equivalents everywhere. Think of Silvio Berlusconi in Italy or even the UK’s Nigel Farage.
Before Corbyn entered the race, there was hardly anything to distinguish the three other candidates from each other. Now that he is in the race, demonstrably the only interesting politician among them, it seems that those same candidates are running scared..
Even support of the benefit cap is argued in terms of perceived fairness; that no one should be seen to receive more on benefits than some working families, without any discussion of the economic and social credibility of a policy that will drive yet more families into poverty. The fact that Corbyn was the only leader candidate who stood against Osborne’s Welfare Bill should speak for itself.
It’s so beguiling not to bite the bullet on £30 billion of tax credits and never say no to public spending on kids and the working poor; and always to talk about talks with terrorists and never confront them.
In Scotland the SNP are in government and opposition at the same time. There the hunger for authenticity broke through in a surge of leftish policies wrapped in the essence of right wingery, nationalism, scorned by Tony Blair. Will the SNP get rumbled before they make the break for another referendum?
Who are the Irish equivalents north and south? (Guess who?). “ Things fall apart the centre cannot hold? “ Probably not. Look more closely. It is mainstream opposition, not mainstream government, that is on the defensive.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London