Chris Burn: Could wildcard Corbyn follow Trump’s triumph?

Jeremy Corbyn is proving to be a formidable election campaigner.
Jeremy Corbyn is proving to be a formidable election campaigner.
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IT would be hard to find two men with more differing world views than Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn, but there are intriguing echoes of the brash New York billionaire’s unlikely triumph in the way the bearded Islington socialist is running his election campaign.

Written off by the media as having almost no chance of victory, loved by their supporters, loathed by their detractors and up against opponents presenting themselves as a safe pair of hands against a radical wildcard, both Trump and Corbyn have positioned themselves as representing the masses ‘forgotten’ by the political establishment.

Trump based his campaign on canny use of social media and massive rallies of adoring supporters but now in office seems to be struggling to adjust to the realpolitik of Washington.

In a strange mirror image, Corbyn has struggled to assert himself as a leader in Westminster, losing by a huge margin a ‘no confidence’ vote from Labour MPs last summer. But out on the campaign trail, he is energised and focused, drawing ever-larger crowds to his appearances around the country.

In extraordinary scenes at an open-air concert by rock band The Libertines earlier this month, the Labour leader was serenaded by thousands of music fans with a chorus of his name as he spoke between acts.

Theresa May’s events, by contrast, have been held either in warehouses or village halls filled with bussed-in Tory activists or in front of corralled workers in factories and offices.

While Hillary Clinton’s campaign was hampered by suspicions that she just couldn’t be trusted, May is rapidly gaining an unfortunate reputation for policy U-turns under pressure – something that goes against the ‘strong and stable’ image she is attempting to project.

And as was seen in the Brexit campaign and Trump’s victory, politicians in power have an often thankless task in fighting to preserve the status quo at a time when millions feel the system just isn’t working for them or their loved ones.

Clinton’s campaign was largely focused on trying to prove to voters what an awful man Donald Trump was rather than putting forward any exciting ideas of her own. May’s own vision is equally hard to determine, highlighted by her readiness to scrap policies when they are criticised and the ease in which she transformed herself from reluctant Remainer to hardline Brexiteer.

Another key parallel of the Trump and Corbyn campaigns is that both men have no shortage of big ideas. You don’t have to agree with all, or indeed any, of Trump’s or Corbyn’s policy pledges, but they are much memorable than those of their opponents.

Trump’s ideas were simple and incredibly attractive to his supporters – building a wall and making Mexico pay for it, repealing Obamacare, an ‘America first’ policy on trade. On an entirely different political spectrum, Corbyn is also making eye-catching promises – scrapping tuition fees, nationalising rail, water and mail and £30bn extra for the NHS.

Just as Trump is struggling to deliver, should Corbyn ever come to power he would find making his ideas a reality rather more difficult than the picture he paints at rallies.

But at the moment in Britain, it is the campaign trail which counts. One huge success of the Labour campaign so far is turning the conversation almost entirely away from Brexit and on to topics Mr Corbyn is far more comfortable with – education, health and social care.

Even on national security, brought to prominence by the appalling events in Manchester, Corbyn has quickly established a position of reversing cuts to emergency services and the police and changing foreign policy in a way that “reduces the threat to the country”.

He may well have found another vulnerability for May with his comments that “austerity has to stop at the A&E ward and at the police station door” given the repeated warnings from the Police Federation on the danger of cuts when she was Home Secretary – claims she dismissed back then as “crying wolf”.

Trump’s flaws convinced many of his opponents that floating voters would not back him on election day, an assumption 
that backfired terribly.

Corbyn, too, has many question marks against his name, while the people he surrounds himself with also raise eyebrows.

The appointment of former Communist Party member Andrew Murray as a key election adviser is a clear example of poor judgement.

‘Theresa May’s team’ – or ‘the Conservative Party’ as they used to be known – may cling to the hope that voters will turn away from Corbyn on such grounds.

But the polls are closing rapidly and Corbyn has momentum (and not just Momentum) on his side. Come June 9, Mrs May could 
well be regretting the decision 
to turn the election into a personality contest between herself and Mr Corbyn.

chris.burn@ypn.co.uk