Bachelet’s victory is a boon for Miliband

Chile’s current veering to the left will undoubtedly be seen as encouraging for a Labour Party seeking to steer a similar course.

The result of this week’s Chilean election was hardly unanticipated. Michelle Bachlet’s left-wing coalition earned an impressive 46.7 per cent of the vote, blazing ahead of her nearest rival, Evelyn Mattei, who trailed far behind with just 25 per cent.

Bachelet’s failure to win the outright majority necessary to prevent a run-off vote is viewed as unimportant. The consensus is that this is only delaying the inevitable, with many in Chile gleefully awaiting what will undoubtedly be a humiliating day for the political right on December 15.

Bachelet’s overwhelming success has come in spite of Chile’s solid macroeconomic performance under the outgoing government of billionaire media mogul, Sebastian Piñera. Growth, though recently slowing, has averaged 5.5 per cent for the last four years and unemployment is hitting record lows.

Far from providing a mandate to Mattei, the incumbent’s heir apparent, the Chilean populace has sneered at these figures, rightly pointing out that this growth has only been benefiting those in society’s higher echelons. Piñera has ignored Chile’s masses to his cost. The centrepiece of this election campaign began with the mobilisation of the heart of Chile – its millions of disenfranchised poor – and as Subcomandante Marcos of the Mexican Zapatista movement once declared, “the heart lies below and to the left.”

Over two years ago, waves of discontented students engaged in pitched battles with police in Santiago as they demanded the scrapping of university tuition fees, seen as a financial barrier used to preserve Chile’s traditional class hierarchies. Images of the protests were beamed around the world even as those occupying university campuses were evicted. Few recognised the momentum that these protests had generated, for Bachelet’s election cannot be understood without the student movement.

Four of its former leaders – Camila Vallejo, Giorgio Jackson, Gabriel Boric and Karol Cariola – have been elected into Chile’s Cámara de Diputados or Chamber of Deputies. The faith shown by the populace in these young activists should be enough to demonstrate the strength of their support.

But the verve with which Bachelet has embraced them shows Chile’s readiness for change. This includes plans to provide free tertiary education for all within five years, paid for by her promise to tax businesses more heavily. Corporation tax will be raised from 20 to 25 per cent whilst firms will now be taxed on any profits they reinvest into their company, much to the chagrin of business leaders.

Back in the United Kingdom, the results of this election contain all the ingredients to make David Cameron rather uneasy. Like Chile, Britain is seeing reasonably strong growth – 3 per cent in 2013 – under a government whose economic policy slants conspicuously to the right; the unemployment rate is decreasing and inflation has been kept relatively well under control.

However wealth is distributed very unequally, with little of it trickling down to the majority of the population and as such, despite a generally positive macroeconomic performance, we see another case of a left-wing pretender currently polling far higher than the right wing incumbent. To complete the eerie comparison, the coalition has even created its own share of discontented students, a rise in tuition fees resulting in riots in the capital.

Any Tory will also be aware that this would not be the first time the UK had followed Chile’s political lead. The neo-liberal economic policy of General Augusto Pinochet during the 70s and 80s provided the model for Margaret Thatcher’s economically revolutionary premiership. El Tata and the Iron Lady maintained a very close relationship and the British employed Chilean intelligence as well as early warning systems during the Falklands War.

Both countries are indeed still emerging from the shadow of these titanic figures.

Of course, prominent differences remain between the nations, their two cultures perfectly juxtaposed last Friday at Wembley as Chile’s flamboyant seleccion out-passed and out-played a prosaic, practical England.

The troughs of Chile’s inequality are also far more profound than anything found in the UK. The former possesses no NHS, nor a state pension system, neither did the protests of British students create anything like the impression they did in Chile.

Nevertheless, Chile’s current veering to the left will undoubtedly be seen as encouraging for a Labour Party seeking to steer a similar course. With around eighteen months until the UK general election, Miliband and Balls will view the circumstances as ripe for emulating Michelle Bachelet’s success. As Mark Twain says, “History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme”.

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