In a recent interview in The Guardian Tony Blair admits that he is baffled by the rise of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. In fact, his comments only confirmed how cut off from reality Tony Blair really is. Blair is of course a disciple of Bill Clinton and the ‘Third Way’. Gaining power by defending the establishment, deregulating the banking sector, pandering to media moguls, whilst appeasing the right-wing through neo-liberal policies. Power at the expense of the very people who elected them in the first place. Power given to them because there was no alternative.
“I think there is a combination of factors behind these movements which are happening both sides of the Atlantic. Part of it is the flatlining of lower and middle income people, the flatlining in living standards for those people, which is very frustrating. It’s partly an anger for sure at the elites, a desire to choose people who are going to rattle the cage.” – Tony Blair
Ironically, Tony Blair is the most successful Labour Prime Minister in British history. Even though he won three elections (two by a landslide) he squandered the best opportunity to improve the lives of working people for a generation. Essentially, he did little to ‘rattle the cage.’ His policies led to the UK invading Iraq, contributed to the global financial crisis, introduced the privatisation of services in the NHS, the legacy of an affordable housing crisis and ended free third level education.
This is why the rise of Bernie Sanders in the United States is so fascinating but yet so important on both sides of the Atlantic. Bernie Sanders is going toe-to-toe with Hilary Clinton, a shrewd ‘Third Way’ advocate. Whilst Sanders offers real progressive change and reform, Clinton offers crumbs.
Like Blair did…
It was the Democratic Debate in Flint, Michigan where Bernie Sanders really set up his stall against the immense political machine that is Hillary Clinton. With global name recognition, experience as Secretary of State, as former First Lady and with the full support of the Democratic Party establishment Bernie Sanders was up against the odds.
Yet he prevailed…
Bernie Sanders has himself emerged from his own media blackout, and is finally gaining traction and cannot be ignored nationally or internationally. Most of his issues are our issues in Europe. Particularly when he mentions huge trade deals. NAFTA was the main issue raised in Michigan that turned a 20 point deficit in the polls into a victory. NAFTA was something the Clinton’s vehemently supported in the 1990’s and cost a state like Michigan hundreds of thousands of well paid jobs. (See Bernie Sanders comments on NAFTA – ‘Bernie Sanders Grills Robert Rubin on NAFTA‘ 1/25/1995)
Here we are two decades later and the United States is on the verge of signing the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) into law and the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) by the end of the decade. The TTIP negotiations between the EU and the US are being conducted in secret. The ramifications of this trade deal for of us in Europe are startling.
The TTIP, like the TPP and CAFTA & NAFTA before it, only reinforce what Bernie Sanders has been arguing for decades. That these huge trade deals cost domestic jobs, lower wages and through deregulation, strengthen corporate power at the expense of the rights of citizens and our environment. The most worrying aspect of TTIP is the use of special courts (held privately whilst findings form precedent) where corporations can sue governments for loss of profits. There is a worrying precedent for this from similar treaties:
- Dutch firm Achmea successfully sued the new government of Slovakia for reversing an unpopular health privatisation.
- Canadian company TransCanada is suing the USA for $15 billion for stopping a tar sands pipeline in the name of climate change.
- Swedish company Vattenfall is suing the German government for €5 billion over its decision to phase out nuclear power by 2022.
- Veolia is suing the Egyptian government for loss of profits as a result of the country’s decision to raise the minimum wage.
- US company Lone Pine is suing Canada for the ban on fracking in Quebec.
As these examples show, Europe’s hunger for economic growth will come at the expense of hard fought union rights, environmental legislation and the privatisation of public services. (Privatisations, once implemented will become irreversible). Whilst we sleepwalk into this predicament Bernie Sanders has been making headway on exactly these issues.
A report by Elise Gould titled ‘Wage inequality continued its 35-year rise in 2015‘ solidifies Sanders claim that America’s middle-class has been shrinking for well over three decades. In Europe we are well into this era. A decade of stagnant growth since the global financial crash, huge unemployment levels amongst Europe’s under 25’s and the reality that this young generation of Europeans will be poorer than their parents.
Where is the progressive champion in Europe willing to stand up against global corporations and the banking sector? Why are we willing to repeat the mistakes the US has made by signing such a trade deal? The problem for us in Europe is that we have no such champion. When the harsh reality of huge jobs losses in German and French industrial cities and the privatisation of the UK’s NHS dawn on Europe’s power-brokers it may well be too late.
We may have to look across the Atlantic for some inspiration at the unrepentant Bernie Sanders. Unapologetic on bad trade deals, banking reform, campaign finance reform, environmental regulation, raising the minimum wage, child poverty, and free education.
A victory for Bernie Sanders against Hillary Clinton in the Democratic race will bury the ‘Third Way’, like Jeremy Corbyn buried Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’. It will prove that there is an alternative to the current political paradigm. Should Sanders pull off such a feat he is projected to beat all Republican nominees comfortably.
The prospect of a Bernie Sanders presidency may be a long-shot but the thought of progressive stalwart ripping into the political and economic establishment of the US is pleasing.
It is about time we had a stalwart like that doing the same in Brussels.
Follow Patrick on Twitter: @ViewFromAttic