Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of Britain’s Labour Party is being cheered on the right as a gift—as close as you get in politics to a guarantee that your side will win an election that’s still five years out. Mr. Corbyn leans so far left that he might not be able to assemble a parliamentary shadow cabinet, never mind a governing majority.Indeed there are two concerns - 1) an incompetent political class and 2) the popular electorate's response to that incompetence. And this is a phenomenon across the OECD, not just an American circumstance.
That’s one way of looking at it. Another is that the political ascent of a man who admires Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and keeps company with Holocaust deniers is another milepost in Britain’s long decline amid a broader unraveling in the West.
Last year the United Kingdom nearly came undone after David Cameron’s government misjudged the politics of the Scottish referendum on independence. The Scots voted to stay in the U.K. by a 55%-45% margin, then turned around and rewarded the Scottish National Party—which had led the drive for independence—with a whopping 56 seats in Parliament in May’s general election.
That election was seen as a vindication for Mr. Cameron, who defied the polls to win a slender parliamentary majority—330 of Parliament’s 650 seats. But it was not an overwhelming British vote of confidence in Conservative governance. Even the hapless John Major took 336 seats in his unexpected 1992 victory.
In other words, what separates Britain from the sundry furies of nationalism and nutterism are six seats in Parliament. What happens when there’s the inevitable recession, the inevitable sex scandal, the inevitable Tory ructions over membership in the European Union?
Then there is the wider political context in which Mr. Corbyn now finds his place. We are living through an era of bitter, and usually justified, disillusion with political establishments. In Europe, that establishment trumpeted a new era of multicultural transnational technocracy but hasn’t delivered sustained economic growth or low unemployment for nearly four decades. In the U.S., Barack Obama has presided over a feeble recovery while relying on obedient Democrats and a pliant media to jam through his domestic and foreign policy agendas over broad popular objections.
The response to this political highhandedness on both sides of the Atlantic is rage: the rage of people who sense that they aren’t even being paid lip service by a political class that is as indifferent to public opinion as it is unaccountable to the law.
These are the people flocking to the banners of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, Marine Le Pen and Jeremy Corbyn—leaders who, either through the consistency of their views or the toughness of their persona, suggest a kind of incorruptibility. They can’t be bought. They’ll never change. They are authentic and pure. What else do you need to govern a country?
Such are the leaders who are coming to the fore in an era in which the worst ideas of the past—protectionism, punitive taxation, isolationism, opposition to immigration, hostility to finance, hatred of Jews in both its anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist variants—are making a political comeback in ways that defy old ideological categories.
Many are wanting to treat the second symptom without addressing the first. Doing so is merely a stop gap measure.
The real challenge is to significantly upgrade the moral standing and the operational competence of the political class. No easy matter.