Corbyn, Sanders and Muscat’s ‘global middle class’

Despite being unfashionable democratic socialists, both Corbyn and Sanders tapped resentment against the mainstream politicians whom people have come to resent.

A poll conducted in the UK last month, found that only 16% of Britons over the age of 60 think that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is doing well at the helm of his party; however, the figure rises to 41% among 18-24 year-olds. In the US primaries, US Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is giving Wall Street-backed candidate Hillary Clinton a run for her money. In Iowa, 84% of Democrat voters aged 17-29 opted for Sanders, whilst the septuagenarian presidential candidate had a 21-point lead over Clinton among those aged 30-44. 

At face value, it is strange that young voters flock to support a 74-year-old man who looks his age and often comes across as angry and dishevelled. 

UK’s Jeremy Corbyn

In Britain, unlikely candidate Jeremy Corbyn came in from the cold to win the Labour leadership election with a landslide. In the run up to the leadership election, Corbyn got the support of more than 40 leading economists who considered his economic policies as necessary to boost growth and prosperity. That gave him an added boost. A survey conducted by The Guardian last month showed an upsurge in Labour Party membership following Corbyn’s election, even in areas without a Labour voting tradition – with notable increases among the young, university cities and towns. 

Youthful enthusiasm

Both Sanders and Corbyn managed to tap youthful enthusiasm that eluded powerful front runners  – the likes of the Labour leadership contenders, Yvette Cooper – a centrist heavyweight candidate, and Andy Burhman dubbed as ‘the man of the people candidate’; and, in Sanders’s case, Hillary Clinton, who many thought was the undisputed Democrats’ candidate for the November US Presidential election. 

Economic insecurity

Despite being unfashionable democratic socialists, both Corbyn and Sanders tapped resentment against the mainstream politicians whom people have come to resent. Both Corbyn and Sanders talk about the redistribution of wealth, and how the US, and UK middle classes have been disappearing for the last two decades. Both the US and UK middle classes feel badly left behind by the current economic recovery. 

When the global economy hit the wall in 2007, governments resorted to austerity measures which affected badly the middle class and left hundreds of thousands of young people out of employment or on low-paid jobs. Now that the economic balance has been largely restored, and despite talk by political leaders in the Western world of economic growth, many young people feel that there is little prospect for career improvement and better wages.

Economic insecurity is therefore seen as the main factor why young – and not so young – voters in Britain and the US are flocking to support Corbyn and Sanders, making them unlikely youth heroes. Corbyn and Sanders are, so far, perceived to be authentic and of making a genuine pitch to voters. 

Muscat’s ‘global middle class’

In Dubai, this week, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, interviewed by CNN’s Richard Quest talked about the creation of a ‘new global middle class’. Now, we’ve heard that before – save for ‘global’ which is a recent addition to his political vocabulary. His pre-2013 general election campaign was all about the creation of a ‘new middle class’, meritocracy and the you-can-disagree-but-still-work-with-us mantra. Forward that to 2016 and it’s a bleak midwinter for Muscat’s Labour government. Free childcare, and positive legislation for minorities have been overshadowed by allegations of corruption and nepotism – now the order of the day. 

The gap narrows

Those who invested in the hope of a new way of doing politics, as promised by the Labour leader pre-2013 are disappointed. Polls published by this newspaper show that the gap between Labour and the Nationalist Party is at an all time low. The running of the government is shambolic – transparency in government at an all time low.

Despite the economy doing relatively well, its effects are not trickling to a large segment of low and middle-income earners. In Malta, part-time work and temporary work are common – have been, but still are. The result is the precarious sort of job, which, undeniably is on the rise. 

Buried beneath the rubble

In the run up to 2013, the Malta Labour Party ditched its working class image and made a pitch for the middle and upper middle classes. In 2016, Labour’s working-class origins are buried beneath the rubble, as attested by the ‘resignation’ of leftist deputy leader Toni Abela and the soon-to-be newly elected deputy leader, Minister Konrad Mizzi. To watch the Labour Party today is to watch money speaking. Muscat’s Labour is a complex hybrid of a handful, yet powerful businessmen, pragmatists, ‘I-want-to-get-rich’ quick upstarts and – tossed to the side – genuine Labour Party supporters. 

Labels, not policies

Joseph Muscat won the 2013 general election with 36,000 votes. In its way, that is an extraordinary achievement. The huge mandate is indisputable. In 2018, Muscat will be profoundly tested. In 2013 he was judged by what he said. In 2018 he will be judged by what he delivered.

But unless he can now address the concerns of those who voted him into power  – mostly the young and the middle class, then victory will soon be followed by defeat. 

Before he speaks about the creation and a ‘new global middle class’, our Prime Minister would do well to stop his globe trotting, ditch the company of his wealthy friends, and listen to the plight of low and middle income earners who expect him to deliver what they voted for in 2013  – fairer distribution of wealth and a fairer society. Much to their disappointment, it is becoming increasingly obvious that in 2013, they voted for labels not policies. 

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