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Letter from America Ian Williams

Tribune: Ian Williams

Published: June 10, 2016 Last modified: June 7, 2016
Those who advocated primary-style elections in the British Labour Party should learn their
lessons from the shambles of the presidential process in the United States, if they had not already
done so from the Labour leadership election. One of those lessons should be to realise the
differences between US and European political systems.
American political parties are not parties in the European sense. They do not have members and
little or no structure through which ordinary voters can influence the process.
That is why Donald Trump, until recently a Democrat donor, can become the Republican
candidate, or why Bernie Sanders, a life-long socialist, is one car crash away from the Democrat
nomination. (In case that looks as bad as it should, Hillary Clinton invoked Robert Kennedys
assassination for staying in the race against Barack Obama when all electoral hope was lost!)
American parties are essentially coalitions of candidates trying to seize the spoils of success.
As we approach the end of the grueling primary elections in the US, Hillary Clinton has been
declaring victory for months because of the so-called super delegates, who are essentially selfappointed party functionaries who have not put themselves through any significant electoral
process but who do know whence the cheques will be coming.
To be fair, much of Bernie Sanders success, like that of Jeremy Corbyn, comes from voters who
had abandoned the Democratic Party and over the years of Vietnam, followed by the Bill Clinton
Like me, they had changed their registration to Democratic Party solely in order to vote for
him or voted in states that allowed open primaries, where independents could vote in the
Democratic primaries.
That highlights a major difference from the British system in the US, the primary elections for
party candidates are run by the government, just as if they were normal elections. Meant to
rescue elections from smoke-filled rooms in Tammany Hall, the advent of television advertising
in effect restricted primaries to people who either had money, or could raise it.
The Clinton family business was famous for courting Wall Street for the same reason that bank
robber Will Sutton explained his choice of target. I rob banks because thats where the money
is. Bill Clintons avowed purpose of eroding the influence of what he called special interest
groups such as the unions, minorities, pensioners who might oppose austerity measures,
deregulation and free trade pacts. Blair like what he saw his chum doing and emulated him.
Money is the root of all evil in politics and as soon as we had one person, one vote in the
British Labour Party, Lord Levys money swung the balance for Tony Blair, while John Prescott
had to pay off his own campaigning bills later. New Labour designed a procedure to elect the

party leader so that influxes of cash from Sainsbury, Zabludowicz, Levy, Ecclestone and the like
could combine with a rabid media to shoo-in the candidate that they wanted.
For both Corbyn and Sanders, new social media has been a gamechanger, upending previous
assumptions. Initially, the Democratic Party establishment clearly regarded Hillary Clinton as the
anointed and decided that saying anything negative about Sanders would just draw unwanted
attention to his candidacy. The establishment tactic was to schedule the debates infrequently and
at unpopular times which in retrospect proved quite effective.
The more voters saw of Sanders the more they liked him and seemingly the more they saw of
Clinton, the less they liked her but her early victories gave her crucial delegates. If Sanders had
had more exposure earlier on, it is likely that he would have a lot more delegates at the
Democratic Convention by now.
Polls show that many of his supporters are not instinctively going to vote for Clinton. They
support Sanders precisely because of his distance from New Democrats and the Clinton family business. This is dangerous ground as show by polls indicating that in a race between Trump and
Clinton, she is far less assured of success than Sanders. To be fair, Trumps thuggishly
authoritarian attitudes make him a frightening prospect, so we can only hope that Sanders supporters will hold their noses and vote for Hillary if necessary.
As a less sanguinary wish, many Bernie supporters, even if they discount the chances of
assassination that she herself has raised, are watching with keen interest the FBI investigation of
the former Secretary of State over her definitely careless and possibly criminal use of emails. An
indictment before the Convention could, of course, mean that all bets are off.
And as a legacy, the Platform Committee that decides the policies Democrats will fight on have a
significant and vociferous Sanders contingent, while he is lending support to like-minded
candidates for Congress. Win or lose, we have not seen the end of the Sanders database.