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Trump v Clinton is depressing – but America could yet follow Corbyn's example

A coming together of people from protest movements and party politics, combined with communication outside the mainstream media, could create a significant electoral challenge.

Returning home to New York City after a sojourn in London and, latterly, Liverpool (where I helped launch a new book about Jeremy Corbyn) exposed a sharp contrast in prevailing moods. In Britain, for those of us on the left, there is a prospect of meaningful change. However much Corbyn’s electoral ambitions are derided by his critics on the right, mainstream politics holds the potential of a genuine alternative. In the US, no such optimism exists. Faced with the choice of the consummate inside-the-Beltway Hillary Clinton and the splenetic xenophobia of Donald Trump, a better future seems achingly distant. Despair flattens the voices of my New York pals.

Perhaps it’s the residual warm glow from witnessing Corbyn’s brave dismissal of immigration quotas that’s distorting my reality. But I’m not as pessimistic as those I’ve been talking to in New York. The choice between Clinton and Trump is depressing. It reflects a marked weakening of the establishment in American politics, just like Brexit and Corbyn in the UK. It’s not clear what is coming next and there is certainly the possibility that it could be worse. But the old Democratic/Republican duopoly, described by Noam Chomsky as two wings of a single “business party”, has overseen galloping inequality, endless wars and the wrecking of the planet. It is hard to lament the steady detachment of the population from such a governing consensus.

Should Trump win, we are likely to witness widespread resistance to his plans to deport Muslims and Mexicans. The huge pro-immigrant demonstrations led by the Latino community, which prompted 350,000 people to pour out on to the streets of Dallas a decade ago, will have to remobilise. If they are joined by the forces around Black Lives Matter and the Asian community, they will be greatly strengthened. On the other side there will be emboldened racists, angry like their president. They could make matters very ugly. But demographics and the long arc of racial history are not on their side.

What’s more, surprising new unities may be possible under a Trump presidency (however unlikely it now seems). Though the establishment pressure to abandon his opposition to trade deals will be immense, an alliance between Trump supporters and progressives, including the trade unions, could force him to stand firm. And it will be hard to manage the sheer unpredictability of his quest to appear anti-establishment. Who can forget that early primary TV debate when, pointing at the row of grinning contenders alongside him, he told the nation that he had paid off every one of them?

A Clinton administration, on the other hand, would probably be a faint shadow of what has gone before. The euphoria that reached a climax on the evening of Barack Obama’s election in November 2008 is absent. The chances of Clinton having a successful presidency – without the fandom of one of the most charismatic US presidents, and with neither the inclination nor the means to implement a transformative political programme – look slim.

Beyond largely symbolic gestures such as an end to the death penalty and a path to the legalisation of marijuana, Bernie Sanders, Clinton’s challenger from the left in the Democratic primaries, won few concessions in the party’s final programme. Sanders may have spurred a dynamic insurgent campaign but we’ve seen those before. Recent US politics is littered with progressive candidates – Jesse Jackson, Dennis Kucinich, Howard Dean – who promised a movement but ended up only as shills for the establishment. With Bernie now stumping loyally for Hillary, it’s hard not to think that we’ve been at this dance before.

Then again, a Democratic victory would make new and unconventional alliances possible. The demands for which Sanders fought on the campaign trail – single-payer health care, an end to college fees, a $15-an-hour minimum wage – resonated among poorer Americans. That cohort includes a great many Trump supporters. If the Sanders activists who mobilised 13 million Americans to vote for an openly socialist candidate can widen their campaign, an unpopular and ineffective White House will find such demands hard to resist.

Democratic (and, occasionally, independent) candidates are advertising their support for Bernie as a way of establishing their own electoral appeal. His post-primary movement, Our Revolution, is returning the favour with finance and volunteers. As Corbyn has shown in Britain, a coming together of people from protest movements and party politics, combined with communication outside the mainstream media, can create a significant electoral challenge.

The left in Britain argued for a long time that first-past-the-post voting guaranteed the continuing existence of two broadly interchangeable centrist parties, and that only outside it could a genuinely socialist alternative be built. In that, they appear to have been spectacularly wrong. The US operates the same Manichaean system. Progressives do not have a horse in the presidential race. Transforming the Democratic Party is a much more challenging task than making the Labour Party accountable to its members. Democratic politics has always been protean, as today’s rallying around Clinton of sundry Republicans and business leaders once again demonstrates.

But perhaps, beyond November, the forces that worked for Bernie this summer will link up with those outside, in social movements, among Trump supporters, and with the 43 per cent of Americans who last time around didn’t vote. If so, a progressive left could take root in mainstream US politics for the first time since the 1940s. Maybe then, those depressed voices around the coffee tables and bars of Manhattan will perk up.

Colin Robinson is a writer and publisher

This article first appeared in the 03 November 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The closing of the liberal mind

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear