Labour advance in UK election inspires a Bernie Sanders supporter

Labour advance in UK election inspires a Bernie Sanders supporter
Donie O'Sullivan/CNN
Texas lawyer Colin Kalmbacher volunteered for Bernie Sanders in last year's Democratic primaries.

Left-wing, anti-establishment, easily written off — Texan Colin Kalmbacher sees strong parallels between Bernie Sanders and British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

“Hashtag Bernie would have won,” Kalmbacher said, reacting to Labour’s surprising showing in Thursday’s UK general election. Conservatives lost their parliamentary majority, while Labour picked up seats under Corbyn’s leadership.

Kalmbacher, a Sanders supporter, was among the American political geeks who joined British expats and vacationers at the Churchill Tavern in Midtown Manhattan to watch the UK election results roll in Thursday night.

Only a handful had gathered when polls closed at 5 p.m. ET. A slight satellite delay resulted in a Labour supporter sitting in the corner of the bar excitedly breaking the news of a projected hung parliament 10 seconds before it flashed on TV screens showing BBC News.

As the workday came to a close, the small crowd grew to more than 100. Once again, politics, not sports, found bars packed. Former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony before a Senate panel had drawn crowds to Washington bars earlier Thursday.

The tourists

Vacationers Deb and Neil Smith of Birmingham, England, were among the first to arrive. The couple left the UK before polls opened Thursday morning, but they had cast a vote in advance by mail.

Labour supporters who opposed Brexit, the Smiths said they were happy about the exit poll results and even more pleased they had exchanged their sterling for dollars after watching the pound drop following the projection of a hung parliament.

“When (Prime Minister Theresa) May called the (snap) election, it looked like it was going to be a landslide for the Conservatives,” Deb Smith said, “but it flipped during the campaign.”

The couple pointed to the recent Manchester and London terror attacks putting May on the defensive over police cuts when she was home secretary. They believe it stopped some people from voting Conservative.

The American

Sporting a colorful Jeremy Corbyn T-shirt, Kalmbacher didn’t have a vote in Thursday’s election. The Fort Worth, Texas, lawyer volunteered for the Bernie Sanders campaign in New Hampshire and said he hopes the United States will take note of Labour’s performance under Corbyn.

“You don’t have to hide who you are, Bernie,” Kalmbacher said, enjoying a Guinness soon after the release of exit poll results. “Corbyn and Sanders have a lot in common,” he added. “Both are former backbenchers. Both were written off by the establishment. Both were undercut by their own party. Both told they’d do no good in a general election.”

Labour’s solid showing — at least projected by the exit poll — should show Americans that an anti-establishment candidate on the left can do well in a general election, Kalmbacher said.

The Tory

Loud cheers every time a Labour candidate won a seat indicated that Tories were outnumbered in the Churchill Tavern.

“She’ll have to resign,” Rob Mackenzie-Smith, a Conservative who lives in New York, said of the Prime Minister.

He voted in Thursday’s election by proxy — his mother casting his ballot back home.

“The EU must be laughing,” he said. “This is perfect for them, they don’t want us to leave.”

Mackenzie-Smith voted for the UK to remain in the European Union in last year’s Brexit referendum. “I was very torn on Brexit, but decided to vote to stay because I knew the chaos it would cause if we left,” he said.

The Tory blamed May’s campaigning style for the Conservatives’ projected loss of seats. “Corbyn showed himself to be a likable character in this campaign,” he said. “May is smart, but not a great campaigner. She’s not great on TV and that hurt her.”

An American in London

“It’s in my personal interest to be against the Conservatives, they are anti-immigration,” Bennett Golder, an Atlanta Democrat who has lived in London for six years, told CNN.

He was in New York for work on Thursday, and while he was skeptical of the exit poll projection, he said he was happy it showed a strong performance for Labour.

“I tend to support candidates I think are electorally viable,” he said, backing Hillary Clinton over Sanders in last year’s Democratic primaries despite being ideologically more aligned with the senator from Vermont.

“I was never a big Corbyn supporter, but was impressed by Labour’s campaign and became a Corbyn believer,” he said. “This election was a vanity project for Theresa May and it failed.

“It’s good to see the forces of liberalism fighting back against populism,” he said, adding, “I want to have a government I can be proud of. Maybe there’ll be one in the UK because with Trump and the Republicans there isn’t one here.”