‘Outsiders’ challenge traditional politicians

Odd ones out: Anti-establishment figures are gaining support on both sides of the Atlantic © PA

Jeremy Corbyn’s victory is the latest in an apparent trend in which voters from Europe to the USA are increasingly drawn to ‘straight talking’ fringe voices and non-politicians.

‘He would just grab a can of beans and eat it straight from the can,’ said Jeremy Corbyn’s first wife Jane Chapman. She was describing their life in the 1970s with their cat, Harold Wilson. Forty years later, the Islington North MP is still a strict vegetarian who travels by bicycle and public transport. He is the five-time winner of the ‘parliamentary beard of the year’ award, and has some of the lowest expenses among MPs. Now, after a three-month campaign, he is leader of the Labour Party.

‘To everyone who wants to see a fairer Britain,’ he tweeted after the result was announced, ‘I welcome you to join our movement.’ This movement is formidable; it elected him with almost 60% of the vote, and 15,500 new members joined in 24 hours.

One of the many expressing support for Corbyn was Pablo Iglesias, who described the election as ‘a step forward’ towards ‘change’ in Europe. The ponytailed ex-political science professor is well-known in Spain, where he leads the left-wing Podemos Party. He has faced criticism for everything from ‘justifying terrorism’ to buying his clothes from cheap supermarkets. But his supporters see him as an alternative to Spain’s political classes, who have been caught in various corruption scandals. ‘He seems like such a decent person,’ said one voter.

In the US, the presidential election is still over a year away, but the campaign has become unexpectedly dramatic. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton is losing ground to Bernie Sanders, a white-haired ‘democratic socialist’ who, as Mayor of a small town called Burlington, urged world leaders to abandon their nuclear weapons in 1981.

In the Republican leadership race, headlines are dominated by the property investor and US Apprentice host, Donald Trump, who claims to fight against a ‘broken’ campaign system. In second place is the soft-spoken brain surgeon Ben Carson. Born to a troubled family in Detroit, he went on to be the first doctor to successfully separate craniopagus twins. Neither has held any political office before.

Rising tide

People are tired of traditional politics, supporters of the ‘outsiders’ say. The political elite are out of touch with ordinary people, and they have nothing interesting to contribute. These new candidates look and sound more like real voters. It’s a refreshing, and welcome, change.

But popular support is no substitute for professional political skill, others warn. Corbyn faces enormous difficulties in the coming months, and voters are fickle. Just look at Greece, where the previously popular Alexis Tsipras is struggling in the upcoming general election. He failed to deliver on his anti-austerity promises, and so he is feeling the consequences.

You Decide

  1. Will the UK ever be led by Prime Minister Corbyn?
  2. Are non-politicians better at politics?

Activities

  1. Draw a campaign poster for one of the political figures mentioned in the story.
  2. Split the class into four groups, each researching one of the US candidates. Choose a leader from each group to give a short presentation on why their person should be president, and then vote.

Some People Say...

“Democracy is broken.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Do any of these people have any power?
They may not be leading their country, but opposition leaders have an enormous amount of influence when it comes to shaping the political discussion. Jeremy Corbyn, as vice-chair of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, is sure to spark a more impassioned debate on the UK’s nuclear weapons than previous Labour leaders. As leader of one of the most influential countries in the world, the next US president will certainly wield enormous power over global politics.
But can they win?
The election of Alexis Tsipras proved that anti-establishment figures can win general elections, although many still doubt that Corbyn could do the same. In the US, Clinton leads the overall polls. But with many months left to go, it’s impossible to predict the final result.

Word Watch

Harold Wilson
The cat was named after the UK prime minister from 1964-1970, and again from 1974-1976. The Labour politician’s government passed anti-racial discrimination laws, abolished the death penalty and decriminalised homosexuality. He was heavily criticised for the rising inflation and unemployment of the late 1960s.
Expenses
MPs are able to claim back money for essential items such as travel or second homes in London away from their constituencies. When the abuse of these expenses was exposed in 2009, Corbyn’s were the lowest in parliament: £8.70 for an ink cartridge. He later admitted that this was a mistake, and it would be closer to ‘a few hundred quid each quarter.’
Podemos
Meaning ‘We Can’, the left-wing party was born out of anti-austerity protests in Spain in January 2014. In the European elections that May, it won five seats. Although the party led opinion polls earlier this year, the support has begun to slow in recent months.
Craniopagus twins
Conjoined twins who are attached at the skull. Carson first separated a pair in 1987 in a groundbreaking 22-hour operation.

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