Larry Sanders is best known as the brother of Bernie, the US senator who became a household name in 2015 after he ran for the US Democratic Presidential nomination.
But Larry, 82, made his own headlines last week. He is running as the Green Party’s candidate for a UK by-election in David Cameron’s Oxfordshire constituency, following the former prime minister’s resignation from the seat.
Sanders, who was born in New York but moved to the UK in the 1960s, is currently the Green party’s health spokesperson.
Business Insider spoke to him to hear more about his campaign, and ask whether he thinks parallels between Jeremy Corbyn and his brother Bernie — Bernard, as he calls him — are useful.
We also heard why:
• He’s not “in the least bit tempted” to join Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.
• Bernie Sanders has more in common with Green MP Caroline Lucas than Jeremy Corbyn.
• He is “following Bernard’s lead” in supporting Hillary Clinton.
Business Insider’s Thomas Colson: What issues do you intend to base your election campaign on?
Larry Sanders: The main thing we want to do is tell people that there’s a real alternative. Our view is that the political establishment — Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats — have, over the last 30 years or so, presided over an enormous increase in inequality. Enormous amounts of wealth and income are flowing to the very richest people, and damaging many other people.
Some people in the middle do alright, many below [the middle income level] are struggling to stay where they are, and many more are falling into poverty.
People in the middle do alright, many below are struggling to stay where they are, and many more are falling into poverty
The general argument has been — “well, that’s the way the markets work, what we need is to keep out of the way of the markets, and everything will turn out alright.”
Well, I think we know now that things haven’t turned out alright. There are logical, rational, practical, alternatives, and we would like people to listen to them.
TC: How central will the NHS be to your campaign?
LS: Very. The NHS and social care will be two central issues. They’re both enormously important, and I think most people are not entirely aware — I think they’re a bit aware — of just how much damage has been done by privatisation, primarily by underfunding. When it comes to the NHS and social care, funding means people. We have a shortage of both hospital and GP doctors, we have a shortage of care workers, and we have a shortage of hospital beds. In most of these categories we’re at the bottom of the European spectrum. And it has an effect, of course.
TC: You used to be active in the Labour Party. Are you tempted to rejoin the party under Jeremy Corbyn?
LS: No, I’m not in the least bit tempted towards him. To his credit, Jeremy Corbyn has supported some very good policies. He signed onto Caroline Lucas’ Bill to reinstate the NHS, and to end privatisation. And that was at a time last year when only about half an dozen or so Labour MPs supported it.
I’m not in the least bit tempted towards Jeremy Corbyn
But he’s not good on funding. He and Diane Abbott, his health spokesperson, are trapped in the idea that there really isn’t enough money. So they’re proposing that we stick to the same ratio between the NHS and national income as the Tories are. My view is that if they do that, we’d face the same problem.
And probably the biggest problem is that the Labour Party under him is far from being a cohesive body. I’m certainly not alone in noticing that.
TC: Broadly speaking, do you welcome the fact that the Labour Party has moved left? Do you think that indicates a more general national shift leftwards?
LS: I think it’s a sign that this log-jam of politics over the last thirty years is breaking. In the same way, my brother Bernard’s success in America has been a sign of that. I don’t think we can carry on as we were. It doesn’t mean that things will get better: they could get worse. I think we’re at a very critical moment.
TC: What do you make of the media’s treatment of figures like Jeremy Corbyn? Do you believe there is an inherent right-wing bias?
LS: Well I think it’s very clear. The largest number of readers in the country are reading very right-wing papers which are owned by tax-exiled millionaires, and their interests and their views are of their own. They’re not very good for the rest of the public. With a lot of them — I really can’t be specific because I don’t read them, but I see the headlines — there is a kind of constant drip-feed of attacks on immigrants, while defending what I see as this enormous switch of wealth to other people.
TC: Do you think the comparisons between Corbyn and your brother are useful, or accurate?
LS: It depends what you use the comparisons for. I use it to say that people are aware that the way things are going are not very good, and they’re looking for alternatives. Bernard’s range of policies is different to Jeremy Corbyn’s, though. I think a better comparison is between Caroline Lucas and my brother. But not yet in getting as many votes – not quite!
TC: You’re running to take David Cameron’s seat in parliament. What did you make of his premiership?
LS: I think it’s a very sad legacy. He’s obviously an incredibly bright and capable man, and he started off with some very interesting phrases, if nothing more. He had, for example, a different attitude towards climate change to most Tories.
But in the end he ended up encouraging fracking, which I think anyone serious about climate change would not do.
David Cameron is obviously an incredibly bright and capable man
In the end, I think, he turned out to be too much a clever politician, and in the end it caught up with him.
TC: In terms of his legacy, do you think it will be defined solely by Brexit?
LS: I think that’s true. I think the economy has not really recovered, and that’s to a large extent because of the Tory policy of taking money out of the economy. That’s just foolish economics. And it was very nasty: they did go after poor people and disabled people more than anyone else. So I think it will be a very poor legacy.
TC: Turning to America, what is your view of your brother’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton – do you support her?
LS: Really in the same way, I’m following Bernard’s lead. Mr Trump would be a particular disaster. I don’t think we’ve had the leader of a major country who pushes that level of racism and bigotry in a very long time.
Mr Trump would be a particular disaster — I don’t think we’ve had the leader of a major country at that level of racism in bigotry in a very long time
The alternative at this moment is Clinton, and she’s far superior.
TC: Your brother Bernie has credited you with passing onto him your political values. Where did you get your own from?
LS: These things are always very difficult to know. Growing up, my parents were not particularly political. They didn’t belong to any party. But they were very strong supporters of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. And so, in many ways, I think that my political views, and Bernard’s political views, are kind of a New Deal based on a different period, with different issues.
But it’s the same idea: you can have a democratic government that can do powerful things for the people. You don’t have to wait for the bankers and their friends to get their act together.