Michael Barone | The Strange Death of the Center-Left

Michael Barone, Real Clear Politics:

In 1935 George Dangerfield published “The Strange Death of Liberal England, 1910-1914,” a vivid account of how Britain’s center-left Liberal Party, dominant for a century, collapsed amid conflicts it could not resolve.

The Liberal Party had appeared impregnable. Its cabinet in 1910 included Herbert Asquith (in the midst of the longest consecutive prime ministership since the Duke of Liverpool’s and until Margaret Thatcher’s), and the future wartime leaders David Lloyd George and Winston Churchill. But after 1910 the party never won an election again.

What got me thinking about Dangerfield’s delightfully written book were political developments here and in Britain — the monster crowds flocking to hear Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders on the West Coast and the likelihood that the far-left Jeremy Corbyn will be elected next month to head Britain’s Labour Party.

The Sanders and Corbyn boomlets have things in common. Sanders has long styled himself a socialist and seeks income redistribution; Corbyn wants government ownership of railroads and coal mines. Both look with favor on 90 percent tax rates.

Both men are competing for leadership of parties with winning electoral records in the recent past. Democrats have won four of the last six presidential elections. Labour won large parliamentary majorities in 1997, 2001 and 2005.

But both candidates repudiate the architects of their parties’ initial victories in the 1990s, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. Sanders is not only running against the architect’s spouse but against his record. Corbyn has suggested that Blair be tried for war crimes.

Blair has responded in kind, charging that Corbyn’s election would “annihilate” the Labour Party. Bill Clinton has not publicly commented on Sanders’ campaign, and we can only speculate on what he thinks of Hillary Clinton’s abandonment of his triangulation and third-way politics.


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