Bernie Sanders gave Hillary Clinton an unexpectedly tough fight in the Democratic presidential primaries, riding a wave of idealism among a predominantly young voter base.
Now his brother Larry, 82, a former social worker and Green party councillor, plans to attempt a similar feat for the Greens in the byelection for the rock-solid Conservative constituency of Witney.
It will be a tall order. “It hasn’t always been the richest turf for the Green party,” a party spokesman said. To become MP for Witney, he would have to overturn Cameron’s 22,700-vote majority in a seat where the last Green candidate won just 5.1% of the vote.
But as Sanders points out, he has branding on his side. “Because of Bernard, I’ve become famous, and I will get more attention from the media, and that’s to be used to get the Green party’s policies across,” he told the Guardian.
Sanders has lived in Oxford since 1968, having moved to Britain after falling in love with “a beautiful Englishwoman”, Margaret, to whom he was married until she died in 1983.
He studied social work at Oxford University and worked as a social worker and adviser to people with disabilities and their carers. He also has a law degree from Harvard.
Sanders has been the Green party’s health spokesman since last year, and says the NHS and social care are the issues “closest to my heart”. On a local level, he has campaigned in support of Witney and Horton hospitals, but also wants to highlight the pressure that social care is under nationally, and opposes the privatisation of social care and the NHS.
He will also echo his brother’s campaign’s emphasis on social inequality. “In Britain, as in the US, we have had an increase in inequality in the last 30 years, and that’s having all sorts of consequences,” he said. “Many people can’t afford houses who you would have expected to not long ago.”
Neoliberalism, he says, has “shuddered to a close”, and he blames resentment for that for the Brexit vote.
The same tides in the US are what propelled his brother’s campaign, he said. “Bernard’s campaign in America was a very successful shifting point.”
Sanders will face barrister Robert Courts as the Conservative candidate, local councillor Liz Leffman for the Liberal Democrats, and Duncan Enright as the Labour candidate.
The Greens point out that Enright has called for Corbyn to stand down, creating the scope for Sanders to pick up support among Corbyn-backing voters. Caroline Lucas, the party’s MP and co-leader, will campaign in the constituency tomorrow.
Larry Sanders campaigned for his brother as a member of Democrats Abroad and was filmed telling the Democratic convention through tears that their parents would be “immensely proud”.
Bernie Sanders will not be officially endorsing Larry, because of the convention against foreign politicians intervening in domestic elections.
But in last year’s general election, when Larry Sanders ran for the Greens in the neighbouring constituency of Oxford West and Abingdon, Bernie spoke via Skype at a meeting of Larry’s supporters. Larry Sanders will not rule out a similar intervention in the byelection.
“Our similarities in terms of policies are astonishing, partly because we talk all the time,” Larry Sanders said. He cannot think of a policy where they have major differences, he added. “We both have maintained a kind of naiveté, where we look around and say, why does a rich country have poor people?”