What can North Carolina Democrats learn from British politics?
There are comparisons to be made between their party and the British Labour Party.
Labour and North Carolina Democrats had similar experiences in 2010 when elections wiped out the legislative majorities each had enjoyed.
In North Carolina, that election ended more than a century of Democratic control of the General Assembly, except for four years in the 1990s when Republicans controlled the House of Representatives.
In Britain, Labour had been in power from 1997, when Tony Blair led the party to a landside election victory over the Conservatives, also known as Tories. The Tories had ruled since 1979, when Margaret Thatcher led her party to victory over fractious Labour.
Out of power during the Thatcher years, Labour supporters argued about proposals to adopt a platform to appeal to growing numbers of middle class and mainstream voters. These changes would break away from Labour’s traditional focus on the needs and aspirations of its working-class base.
Led by Tony Blair, Labour rebranded itself as New Labour, discarded its historic commitment to nationalizing industry, and adopted a more modest statement of its equalization goals for Britain “in which power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, where the rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe, and where we live together, freely, in a spirit of solidarity, tolerance and respect.”
Although Labour lost some enthusiasm from its traditional base, its modern platform helped broaden support from other voters. The 1997 election that made Blair the prime minister was Labour’s largest landside victory ever. After Blair’s victory, his Labour government adopted moderately progressive social reforms such as a national minimum wage, changes in banking regulations, and tax and benefit reforms.
Blair’s New Labour governed until 2010 when the Tories led by David Cameron defeated Blair’s successor, Gordon Brown.
The far-left or old guard members of the Labour’s base had never been happy with the success of Blair’s moderate programs. Their lack of enthusiasm for their party contributed to Labour’s loss.
Since 2010, Labour’s old guard has taken control of the party again and has driven moderates and New Labour supporters away from party leadership.
Labour’s current leader, Jeremy Corbyn, is an unapologetic, old guard Labourite who opposed Blair’s party and governmental leadership. He favors renationalizing public utilities and some banks, raising taxes, setting maximum compensation for the wealthy and withdrawing from NATO.
Corbyn’s old guard views have helped mobilize Labour’s base. The party is growing in membership. But his and the party’s support, though deep, is not wide. Apparently, many New Labour supporters have bolted and, except for its core base, public support for Labour has disappeared.
In the upcoming June 8 British parliamentary election, the Tories are licking their chops. According to Reuters’ Elizabeth Piper, they hope to “destroy” Labour. The Guardian’s John Harris writes, “This is, then, arguably the most momentous period the country has entered since 1945 — which brings us to the Labour party, and its quite astounding irrelevance. The basics of its position barely need recounting. Labour has no hope of forming the next government, nor in all likelihood the one after that. Questions about its possible extinction abound. And its staggering poll deficits leave the Tories to do pretty much as they please.”
By choosing ideological purity over the broad-based progressivism that Blair used to win elections and govern, Labour may have conceded that upcoming election and its future in British politics.
What then is the lesson for North Carolina Democrats?
Don’t do what British Labour has done.
Don’t let a Jeremy Corbyn-like ideologue take over your party.
D.G. Martin hosts “North Carolina Bookwatch,” which airs Sundays at noon and Thursdays at 5 p.m. on UNC-TV. This Thursday’s (May 25) guest is John Claude Bemis, author of “Out of Abaton: The Wooden Prince.” Next week’s (May 28, June 1) guest is John Semonche, author of “Pick Nick: The Political Odyssey of Nick Galifianakis from Immigrant Son to Congressman.” To view prior programs: http://video.unctv.org/program/nc-bookwatch/episodes/. For upcoming programs: www.unctv.org/ncbookwatch