Hillary Clinton vs. the ‘New Politics’

With Hillary Clinton securing the presumptive Democratic Party nomination, can we hope to return to a less divisive, more inclusive politics?

The last few years have been characterized by a ‘new politics’ which rejects the ‘safe’ consensus of moderate, centrist politics.

In some ways, this has been very refreshing.

We are all tired of careerist politicians who seem to have no heart or passion for their cause – just a series of bland talking points, more likely to induce a yawn than a cheer.

But the ‘new politics’ has had its downsides too.

The explosion in the use of social media has opened up democracy to genuine, popular involvement but it has also meant that there is little filter on nasty or abusive participants. This exacerbated further by the fact that social media rewards short, emotive expressions over considered engagement.

Particularly against the backdrop of a sluggish and uncertain economic situation, people are looking for more radical solutions, which have frequently been characterized by a rejection of compromise.

One aspect of this has been movements for Scottish independence from the UK, or UK independence from the European Union, which seek to reject the give-and-take required by union or partnership.

Another downside is that, where people seek radical solutions or someone to blame, minorities and refugees have taken a lot of the heat.

I spent much of last week at a conference run by the German Marshall Fund of the United States for young political leaders from Europe and the USA’s ethnic diverse communities, including Roma and disability activists, Latino and Native American politicians, and race and gender NGO chiefs. I was part of the Jewish contingent.

Beyond the wry observation that the ‘new politics’, seems primarily to involve leaders who are ‘male, pale and stale’ old white men  there was a palpable fear about some of its uglier manifestations.

Donald Trump’s outlandish and stigmatising statements on Muslims and Mexicans have left many concerned about a nasty new tone in politics. Many detected a similar strain of prejudice in some of Zac Goldsmith’s campaign against Sadiq Khan in London.

Across the continent, the far right has seen significant gains, whether the Front National in France or Jobbik in Hungary. In Austria, Norbert Hofer was just 31,000 votes from becoming president. The fact that he was beaten, not by a centrist party, but by a Green-aligned independent, was perhaps less worrying, although almost as astounding.

The left has also enjoyed a remarkable resurgence, tapping in to a popular disaffection with austerity politics. The rise of Syriza in Greece in 2015, followed by the extraordinarily energised campaigns of Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, testifies to this.

While this has certainly opened up a new economic conversation, the exchange has been too-frequently ill-tempered, with leftists and centrists trading blows and accusations.

One of the least edifying elements of this in the UK contexts has been the ‘weaponisation’ of the anitsemitism issue.

It is no doubt partly true, as supporters of Jeremy Corbyn claim, that there has been a concerted effort to find examples of anti-Semitism – many of which long predate Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader – to discredit him by playing on fears about some of his political views and previous connections.

However, while many Corbynistas do ‘get it’, it has been disappointing and concerning to see too many Labour members failing to realise that whatever the motives, the bigger problem is surely that those examples of anti-Jewish prejudice were there to find in the first place.

The best way for Labour to move past this issue is not to ‘cry foul’, but to deal with anti-Semitism firmly and convincingly. From a party which prides itself on an anti-racist tradition, we should expect nothing less.

After all the above division, Hillary Clinton’s campaign has been refreshingly different. While she no doubt represents the establishment, she would be the USA’s first female president and her campaign has been a broad tent.

Perhaps with Hillary’s nomination we see a return to a politics which still rewards reaching out and bringing groups together. Or perhaps we will soon see the election of Donald J Trump.

In the struggle for an inclusive politics, there is all to play for.

Phil Rosenberg is Director of Public Affairs at the Board of Deputies of British Jews and a local councillor for Labour in West Hampstead. He writes here in a personal capacity. He tweets at @PhilR_R.

About the Author
Philip Rosenberg is Director of Public Affairs at the Board of Deputies of British Jews. Philip is a longstanding activist in interfaith relations, serving as Co Chair of Camden Faith Leaders Forum and formerly as Executive Director of the Faiths Forum for London. He was previously a Labour Party councillor in Camden.
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