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Unelectable? Only to the super-rich elite

LARRY SANDERS says his brother Bernie and Jeremy Corbyn don’t have radical views – just ones that challenge the people in charge

EVEN in politics, few figures embark on a new chapter of their career at the age of 81. But Larry Sanders is raring to go.

The recently appointed Green Party health spokesman shows every sign of taking his brief seriously — with the figures of NHS strain under Tory rule at his fingertips.

But that’s not all. For Larry’s younger brother Bernie — or Bernard as he always refers to him in his pleasant, plummy, New York drawl — is making shockwaves in his quest for the White House. 

And the Vermont senator has cited his Oxford-based brother as a crucial influence in his politicisation as a young man.

“Bernard thought he would make a big splash, but he didn’t think things would happen quite as quickly as they happened, that was a surprise,” Larry recalls when I interview him in front of an audience of students in Oxford.

“But he’s been accustomed, he’s been elected to office over more than 30 years. People say, it’s only Vermont, Vermont is like an alien invasion into America.”

We’re here to discuss similarities between Sanders’s success in the Democratic primaries and Jeremy Corbyn’s shock victory last summer. 

So I wager that this perception of Vermont is similar to how Corbyn’s Islington North constituency has been portrayed.

“Yes,” the elder Sanders brother agrees. But he stresses that Vermont is in fact “a very mixed society” — again, much like Islington North.

“Until quite recently, it mainly elected Republicans to office, in fact.”

“One of the things that’s made him so popular is that people can see he hasn’t shifted his view to the last focus group. He’s been saying the same sort of thing, quite boringly in fact, for a very long time, from the beginning of his career onwards.”

Larry, who moved to Britain in the 1960s and worked as a university lecturer before his retirement, also rails against left-wing voices being branded “unelectable” when they enter the public debate.

“In my view electable turns out not to mean somebody a lot of people would vote for,” he scorns. 

“Electable turns out to be somebody who’s recognised by the media and other kinds of authority figures as being the sort of person we elect.

“That is, someone whose viewpoints and actions are not likely to do much damage to real wealth.”

And so you’d think Larry Sanders would be a natural defender of Corbyn — who has had to deal with his fair share of arguments along these lines. And he says he is “of course” pleased to see Corbyn elected.

“I wish them well, I honestly wish them well, even if might be bad electorally for my party, because I’d rather we had a decent society and the Labour Party is an important part of that.”

Yet Sanders has little faith in the wider ranks of the Labour Party, which he was a member of for some years before joining the Greens.

“At the moment it looks to me like the old leadership, the bulk of MPs and councillors, would much sooner lose an election or two than lose the party that they’ve run for such a long time,” he says.

From the audience at the Oxford event, Labour national executive member Peter Willsman has another analysis. 

“The ruling class have got their party, and the working class have got to have their party,” he tells Sanders. “In my view, the Greens should be called a petit bourgeois party. God knows what class they represent. And therefore they have no major role in the class struggle — and I believe there is a class struggle.”

Sanders, however, sees elements of class struggle both in the environmental movement and in his brother’s campaign in the states.

“There are elements of class struggle in that everywhere, if you look at what happened in New Orleans during the Katrina disaster some years ago, the people who had money took their plastic and got in their cars and drove off.

“The other people stayed and many died. So it is very much part of the old-fashioned struggle between the very rich who run the society and the rest of the society.” 

His intonation is more relaxed, but the words could have come from his brother, who has been affectionately parodied for the shoutiness of his statements on social media. 

Larry thinks US society is more applicable to an “old-fashioned more Marxist viewpoint” of class than the cultural divisions in Britain.

“Bernard certainly is a socialist and accepts and understands the class division. The difference is between their function in society. The very wealthy run the society because of their wealth. They control the economy, and they control politics because the money they get from the economy helps them to do so. It’s not their actions, it’s not even their school that’s the problem, the problem is their function in society.”

I suggest that this sort of over-arching narrative was just what was badly missing from Labour’s last manifesto — contributing to the party’s defeat. He agrees, but says it’s also down to the fact that so-called mainstream parties are actually plain right-wing.

“The truth is that what we’re calling radical, whether it’s the Green Party or Bernard, if you go policy by policy, they’re mainstream policies,” he says.

“It’s not a question of branding, it’s that the opinion-setting media is run by a small group of tax-exiled billionaires. Why should they not have those opinions? But why should anyone pay attention to those opinions?”

The rise of stay-safe focus groups and branding consultants has poisoned politics across the globe, Larry thinks — but his brother has found a way out.

“What’s astonishing is that he turns up on stage and starts yelling at people, he yells for an hour and a half — that’s not American politics, that hasn’t been American politics since the 19th century.

“What is he talking about, he’s talking about statistics, specific policies. I think these branding guys would have a heart attack.”

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