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Forums - Politics Discussion - British Labour should learn from Biden's success

I was just reading this article by Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian and couldn't resist sharing because it just strikes me as spot-on. He contends that Britain's Labour Party should learn from Joe Biden's political success here in the U.S. and, just speaking as an American who voted for Biden and is kind of concerned about the state of the global left of which I might considered a part, I think he makes a pretty strong argument.

The context is that the Conservatives recently won a major upset victory in a by-election in Hartlepool, which had consistently voted for Labour for the last 57 years. And the margin wasn't close either. This is the kind of development that makes it clear that the Tory landslide of late 2019 was no fluke, but indicative of a major political realignment wherein the working class of the country is rapidly abandoning the Labour Party. As Labour's very name suggests, the working class has been their core and most defining constituency historically. Simply put, without the working class, Labour cannot win national elections. Hence this development is being taken as sort of a crisis for Labour. Clearly something needs to change. And just as clearly, that something has little to do with the question of whether Keir Starmer's centrist faction or that aligned with Jeremy Corbyn's left wing ideas leads the party, as both seem to be getting similar electoral results. Freedland aims to diagnose what Labour's underlying messaging problem is and how it might be best altered. He makes this argument that just hits the nail on the head, I think:


"...Brexit may only have come up rarely on the doorstep in recent weeks, but it marks the turning point in this story. Hard though it may be for remainers such as me to accept, leavers have a point when they say that Labour did better in 2017 partly because the party appeared to be reconciled to the referendum result and worse in 2019 when the promise of a second vote threatened to overturn it.

Just as voting yes to independence in 2014 broke the taboo on defying Labour for many voters in Scotland, allowing them to back the SNP a year later, so Brexit smashed that same psychological barrier for traditional Labour voters in England, acting as the gateway to supporting the Tories for the first time. In the Brexit case, the break was even more profound. Labour was not just at odds with many of its core voters in 2016: it pointedly failed to heed their wishes in the years that followed. That is a rupture that takes more than 18 months to heal.

But Brexit itself was more symptom than cause, a function of the culture gap between Labour and the people it once reflexively represented, a gap that has been growing wider for years. Put aside the specific question of leaving the EU. If Labour now stands for what can be easily caricatured as remain values (urban and “woke”) while the Tories represent supposedly leave values (traditional and patriotic), that spells electoral disaster. There are far more leave-minded seats than remain ones. What’s more, while the Conservatives have the leave brand all to themselves, Labour has to fight for the smaller remain franchise against the Liberal Democrats, Greens and the nationalist parties."


He highlights likewise that 77% of Labour's current members have a college degree.

His article concludes on a note about what the popular new American president with an average job approval rating of 54% and the support of most American workers has done differently to cement the trust of blue collar workers...people like myself...without alienating younger, more progressive intellectuals in the nation's urban centers: "Biden casts every measure, including on the climate crisis, in terms of creating millions of well-paid, unionised jobs – and that’s a message both kinds of Democrat can get behind." When I read that, it rang true to me. Take the "not" State of the Union address he did recently. The vast majority of the program he laid out either directly revolved around job creation, wage growth, unionization of the workforce, wealthier Americans needing to pay their fair share in taxes, these sorts of things, or else was framed that way. He repeatedly spoke to "blue collar" workers directly and specifically. And you know what, I think that's it. I think that tone is what makes the fundamental difference at the end of the day. I don't think it's so much about whether you're specifically socialist or not or whether the trade policy you back is aggressively protectionist. I think it's about coming off as valuing ordinary workers who don't necessarily have all the gateways to upward social mobility that some do. Like I believe that Joe Biden cares about me. I really do. I don't know if Keir Starmer cares about working people in Britain.

To be sure, there's also the other side of the equation: Boris Johnson is also just a way more competent and reasonable conservative rep than Donald Trump ever was. Ya know, he's not a Covid denialist, but rather has spearheaded one of the world's very most successful vaccine rollouts, for example, and likewise actually criticizes hostile foreign governments like that of Vladimir Putin when they attempt to assassinate opposition forces and such instead of defending them. He's also a Trump critic. He's also notably, in contrast to his Conservative predecessors, NOT a budget austerity conservative! That's one thing he has in common with Trump actually, and a quality that one suspects helps him with the working class. He's also not an anti-feminist who rails against the Me Too movement and in fact has earned the trust of a whole segment of the women's movement that goes beyond just the conservative feminists because he's not trying to outlaw abortion or ban lesbians (or any gay people) from marrying like conservatives do here in this country, and adds to this a gender critical politics and his party's traditional opposition to pornography and actually supports policies aimed at curtailing male violence against women, which he describes that way. A lot of those distinctions are really just consequential of the comparative weakness and irrelevance of the Christian right in Britain compared to here in the U.S. where it remains a major political force in the Republican Party, but they go to show how the Christian right is really an impediment to the GOP's political success here in much of the country at this point. So I mean there's a lot that American conservatives can likewise learn, I think, from their British counterparts in terms of how they might successfully rebound from their recent years of electoral defeats (and I don't think it involves demoting Liz Cheney for telling the truth).

Nevertheless, the point for my purposes here really is that Biden's success here (so far) should not be ignored. The left broadly should learn from it, I think, like it terms of speaking directly to working people like they're people and they matter, making that their priority over other, less agreeable things, and yeah in terms of explicit patriotism, cheesy as that may seem. Wave your own country's flags at your party conventions and not so much those of other countries, for example. Well, just thoughts that I felt were worth sharing because I care!