As his time as US president comes to a close, Barack Obama has sparked an unlikely controversy across the pond - by appearing to agree that Labour, Britain's left-wing opposition party and a traditional partner of the Democratic Party, had "disintegrated" over the past year.

His comments came during an interview with David Axelrod, a political consultant who worked on Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaigns, for his podcast, "The Axe Files."

The exchange was prompted when Axelrod asked about the future of the Democratic Party after the 2016 election loss. During Britain's 2015 election, Axelrod had worked with Labour's Ed Miliband - a centrist leader who went on to lose by an unexpectedly wide margin. Axelrod asked Obama whether he was scared that the Democrats would move further to the left, as Labour had done under Miliband's successor, Jeremy Corbyn, and end up in a "very frail state."

Obama appeared to agree with Axelrod's description of Labour under Corbyn but suggested that the Democrats would fare better as they were "pretty grounded in fact and reality." He then went on to say that Senator Bernie Sanders, who challenged Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary campaign, was a "pretty centrist politician" relative to Corbyn.


Axelrod's interview with Obama was posted online on Monday. His comments about Corbyn and the Labour Party, only a fleeting part of the hour-long interview, were not widely commented on by US listeners. However, the comments soon sparked wide conversation in Britain, a longtime US ally, and its political world, where Corbyn's leadership of Labour is a hot topic of debate.

The 67-year-old socialist, formerly little known outside leftist political wings, was selected to lead Labour last year after winning the support of Britain's trade unions, which control large numbers of votes. Corbyn has been wildly popular with Labour's grass roots but is at odds with many of his fellow Labour politicians, who claim he is unelectable.

After a vote of no confidence from his fellow Labour lawmakers over his low-key role in the campaign that preceded Britain's Brexit referendum this summer, Corbyn was reelected party leader in September. The election has hardly fostered unity in the Labour Party, however, offering very little in the way of a challenge to Prime Minister Theresa May, who took office in July.

In response to Obama's comments, a spokesman for Corbyn gave a statement to the Guardian:

"Both Labour and US Democrats will have to challenge power if they are going to speak for working people and change a broken system that isn't delivering for the majority.

"What Jeremy Corbyn stands for is what most people want: to take on the tax cheats, create a fairer economy, fund a fully public NHS [National Health Service], build more homes and stop backing illegal wars.

"For the establishment, those ideas are dangerous. For most people in Britain, they're common sense and grounded in reality."

Obama and Corbyn have met before: According to reports in the British press, they met for an hour and a half in April. After the talk, Corbyn said the two men had an "excellent" discussion that touched on the "challenges facing post-industrial societies".


In the past, Corbyn, whose foreign policy views have led some to brand him as anti-American, had called Obama a "Pentagon president, like all the others."