As one who grew up in Canada, I was heartened to see this week’s election got some attention in the UK. Most of this seemed to revolve around those on the centre-left praising the fall of Harper and the rise of Trudeau Jnr. While I can agree with them that seeing the back of Harper is good for the world, I do wonder about some of the comments on social media I’ve read. “A victory for the Left the world over” is one as is, “if Corbyn’s policies were packaged inside a Justin Trudeau lookalike the media would be less hostile towards him?” another. The reason I bring all this up is because I think having an international comparison is useful in understanding why the centre-left can win elsewhere and not in Britain at present – and why Corbyn has got it wrong on this count.
Let’s have a look at the key manifesto pledges of Trudeau’s Liberals: a tax cut for the middle class; balanced budget apart from a small allowance for capital projects; reduction of employment insurance premiums; full legalisation of marijuana; move away from the First Past the Post voting system towards something more proportional. It sounds nothing like either the current Labour Party direction, or indeed any Labour Party manifesto, ever. It sounds, however, a lot like the Lib Dem manifestos of recent years. This makes perfect sense: the Liberal Party are a liberal party. They are in no way a democratic socialist party, a label they would run several miles from being even lightly associated with.
What I’m getting at here is that if the Left in Britain can cheer on Trudeau’s victory in Canada, why can they not understand what allowed him to win and how completely different that is from the agenda that Corbyn is pursuing currently? Or to answer the question above about Corbyn getting a better hearing in the media if he looked like Justin Trudeau: no, it wouldn’t help Corbyn if he was younger and/or better looking. Because Trudeau ran on a liberal platform that was broadly popular, as opposed to a socialist one that wasn’t. If you want to understand that directly, look at what happened to Canada’s social democratic party, the New Democrats, in the same election. They’ve gone from the main opposition to a minor party since Monday’s election, and a lot of it had to do with being seen as too ideologically left-wing.
As Trudeau has shown, you can be centrist without being a Tory. In fact, that sentence summarises the problem the centre-left has in this country perfectly. Yes, the British Tories are much less right-wing than the Canadian ones (and trust me on this, they are – if you don’t believe me, imagine a Harper led government putting forth equal marriage legislation if the Liberals hadn’t already passed it into law), leaving less space in the middle for the centre-left in the UK. However, there is still an electable place the centre-left can occupy in this country if they so choose to. The Canadian Liberal Party decided to park their tanks there and were rewarded with a parliamentary majority, ridding the country of a very right-wing government; there’s a lot for British non-Tories to learn from how they accomplished that feat.