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No, Bernie Sanders is not America’s Jeremy Corbyn

Bernie Sanders' policies and career bear little resemblance to the Labour leader's. So why are the Corbynites so keen to support him?

Bernie Sanders is the more left-wing of the two remaining candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. Jeremy Corbyn was the most left-wing candidate in Labour’s summer leadership election. These two facts seem to have persuaded a sizeable portion of the British left that Sanders is the American equivalent of Corbyn. He is not. Far from it.

Take foreign policy  Corbyn’s preoccupation over his 33 years as an MP. Corbyn has never voted for military intervention, and has often marched against various British actions abroad. Compare this to Sanders. First, he has barely talked about foreign policy in his campaign – a pronounced difference in emphasis from Corbyn. And though he voted against the Iraq War (unlike Hillary Clinton), Sanders did back the intervention in Afghanistan and supports the maintenance of a US army presence in the country after the Obama presidency concludes. Sanders also voted for military action in the Balkans in 1999, which Corbyn opposed.

It’s the same when it comes to Israel-Palestine. Corbyn’s position now he’s leader is slightly opaque – he says he supports Israel’s existence though was criticised for refusing to say the word "Israel" at a Labour conference event – but he has repeatedly advocated economic sanctions against the country. Which is a far cry from Sanders, who holds a relatively mainstream view: he opposes settlements and condemns bouts of Israeli violence while consistently advocating a two-state solution. And here’s a video from August 2014 in which Sanders, confronted at a town hall meeting by constituents asking him to condemn Israel’s actions in Gaza, tells one to “shut up” and lambasts Hamas (who Corbyn has called friends) for firing missiles into Israel from “populated areas”.

Add Hugo Chavez, the former Venezuelan president, into the mix eulogised by Corbyn as a leader who “forged alliances to try to bring about a different narrative in world politics”, while Sanders preferred to remember “a dead Communist dictator” – and it’s clear that Sanders is no Corbynite peacenik, even if he is doveish by American standards.

And then there’s domestic policy, where Sanders, like Corbyn, rails against inequality. But so does Clinton, who said in July, well before the Sanders surge was a reality, that her “mission from the first day I’m president to the last” will be to “raise incomes for hard-working Americans so they can afford a middle-class life”. Sanders espouses a universal healthcare system, but it was Clinton as First Lady two decades ago who first seriously pursued the cause of healthcare reform. Sanders supporters slate Clinton for failing to oppose the death penalty, but Clintonites could easily fire back with his mixed record on gun control.

The complicated truth is that both Sanders and Clinton are operating in a political culture that is far less amenable to progressive change than our own. Even so, it is difficult to mount an argument that Sanders advocating the healthcare system the UK has had for 70 years, and his jibes at the big money necessary to mount a US presidential campaign, make him identifiably similar to Corbyn in any meaningful sense. His programme may be radical by US standards, but it’s barely more radical than Clinton’s, and quaint by comparison even to the three leadership candidates Corbyn ran to the left of last summer.

Corbyn and Sanders also differ dramatically in their career paths. Until September, Corbyn was a career backbencher, unsullied by the constraints of leadership and the exigencies of executive office. By contrast, Sanders’ first prominent political office was the mayoralty of Burlington, Vermont’s largest city. And though in his 25-year career in Congress Sanders has been one of very few independents, he was far more influential than Corbyn ever was in the Commons: Sanders spent two years as chair of the Senate's Veteran Affairs Committee, whereas Corbyn generally avoided select committee work.

So, unlike Corbyn, Sanders has followed a fairly standard career path: from state politics, to the House, to the Senate, to a presidential run. Clearly Corbyn’s unlikely path from eccentric backbencher to leader was part of his appeal to his supporters, but it’s another difference from Sanders.

Many Corbynites find themselves supporting a candidate whose career bears little resemblance to Corbyn’s, who would run fast from the Labour leader’s foreign policy, and to whom comparisons on domestic policy are at best muddled. Sanders’ cheerleaders on the British left are going to have to come up with a better reason to support him than the notion that he’s like Corbyn, because at the moment the most striking parallel is that they’ve opted for the white man over the woman once again. 

Henry Zeffman writes about politics and is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2015.

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Jeremy Corbyn sat down on train he claimed was full, Virgin says

The train company has pushed back against a viral video starring the Labour leader, in which he sat on the floor.

Seats were available on the train where Jeremy Corbyn was filmed sitting on the floor, Virgin Trains has said.

On 16 August, a freelance film-maker who has been following the Labour leader released a video which showed Corbyn talking about the problems of overcrowded trains.

“This is a problem that many passengers face every day, commuters and long-distance travellers. Today this train is completely ram-packed,” he said. Is it fair that I should upgrade my ticket whilst others who might not be able to afford such a luxury should have to sit on the floor? It’s their money I would be spending after all.”

Commentators quickly pointed out that he would not have been able to claim for a first-class upgrade, as expenses rules only permit standard-class travel. Also, campaign expenses cannot be claimed back from the taxpayer. 

Today, Virgin Trains released footage of the Labour leader walking past empty unreserved seats to film his video, which took half an hour, before walking back to take another unreserved seat.

"CCTV footage taken from the train on August 11 shows Mr Corbyn and his team walked past empty, unreserved seats in coach H before walking through the rest of the train to the far end, where his team sat on the floor and started filming.

"The same footage then shows Mr Corbyn returning to coach H and taking a seat there, with the help of the onboard crew, around 45 minutes into the journey and over two hours before the train reached Newcastle.

"Mr Corbyn’s team carried out their filming around 30 minutes into the journey. There were also additional empty seats on the train (the 11am departure from King’s Cross) which appear from CCTV to have been reserved but not taken, so they were also available for other passengers to sit on."

A Virgin spokesperson commented: “We have to take issue with the idea that Mr Corbyn wasn’t able to be seated on the service, as this clearly wasn’t the case.

A spokesman for the Corbyn campaign told BuzzFeed News that the footage was a “lie”, and that Corbyn had given up his seat for a woman to take his place, and that “other people” had also sat in the aisles.

Owen Smith, Corbyn's leadership rival, tried a joke:

But a passenger on the train supported Corbyn's version of events.

Both Virgin Trains and the Corbyn campaign have been contacted for further comment.

UPDATE 17:07

A spokesperson for the Jeremy for Labour campaign commented:

“When Jeremy boarded the train he was unable to find unreserved seats, so he sat with other passengers in the corridor who were also unable to find a seat. 

"Later in the journey, seats became available after a family were upgraded to first class, and Jeremy and the team he was travelling with were offered the seats by a very helpful member of staff.

"Passengers across Britain will have been in similar situations on overcrowded, expensive trains. That is why our policy to bring the trains back into public ownership, as part of a plan to rebuild and transform Britain, is so popular with passengers and rail workers.”

A few testimonies from passengers who had their photos taken with Corbyn on the floor can be found here