They are outsiders. They aren’t part of the establishment. They are people who speak their mind, no matter how unpalatable some may find their views. And for that reason, they are a refreshing change from the ‘norm’ of politicians who we think will say anything to get into power. And who will then find any reason possible not to change things when they get into power.
The important lesson that we can learn about any of these ‘outsiders’ can be gleaned, though, by examining the political trajectory of the current President of the United States of America. Barack Obama entered the race to be the Democratic candidate as a rising star, having been a junior Senator for Illinois prior to 2006 when he became something of an unfancied outsider. He formally announced his candidacy in 2007, and due to careful management of his image won the Democratic nomination ahead of the early favourite Hillary Clinton. Chief amongst the reasons for his success was the ability to fundraise substantial amounts to finance his campaign from individual US citizens, rather than relying on the largesse of the established vested interests.
From there, the Obama campaign went from strength to strength. There was a temporary blip in polling when Obama’s Republican rival announced maverick Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, but the strength and simplicity of Obama’s message for ‘Hope’ and ‘Change’ won through. The people of the USA had voted for a move away from the status-quo.
When in office, things became somewhat more difficult. Established vested interests tend to be entrenched in the corridors of power, and change by its very nature tends to threaten the establishment. Around that time, the success of Obama’s campaign had attracted the attention of the UK Labour Party. And the model of community organising which had served Obama so well in his early years in Chicago had been transported east across the pond by none less than David Miliband, in his failed bid for the Labour leadership. This resulted in the setting up of Movement for Change, and the involvement of Chicago activist Arnie Graf in helping to train large number of community activists throughout the UK. At its height, Movement for Change boasted that it was able to mobilise an army of 10,000 engaged and enthused people from throughout the UK. It also hosted the largest Conference in Brighton. But its star is now in the wane, as it too has become viewed as being more about self-promotion than about community improvement. And, just recently, it was mooted that it should declare itself a success, and disband.
But, so very easily, the outsider can become the New Establishment. As both Trump and Sanders position themselves as outsiders, Obama has become the Commander in Chief. The price of success is that one will, eventually, fail.
Which answers a different question. Although Trump, Farage, Corbyn and Sanders are all portrayed as outspoken or populist outsiders – if they ever gain the top jobs in their respective countries, they will all leave different legacies. Ripples on the water left by a skipping stone which eventually runs out of momentum and sinks…