New York mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio's success should give hope to Miliband

The triumph of the radical Democrat proves that you can run from the left and win.

If you don't know the name Bill de Blasio yet, you soon will. With a remarkable 39-point lead (65-24) over his Republican rival Joe Lhota, he is set to be elected today as the first Democrat mayor of New York for more than 20 years on the most left-wing platform of any recent candidate.

From a British perspective, the similarities with Ed Miliband are striking. De Blasio has campaigned on the slogan "One New York, Rising Together" (an echo of Miliband's "One Nation"), speaking of "a tale of two cities" (Miliband warns of "two nations") as the rich pull away from the rest:

In so many ways, New York has become a Tale of Two Cities.

Nearly 400,000 millionaires call New York home, while nearly half of our neighbors live at or near the poverty line. Our middle class isn’t just shrinking; it’s in danger of vanishing altogether.

Addressing the crisis of income inequality isn’t a small task. But if we are to thrive as a city, it must be at the very center of our vision for the next four years.

In response, he has pledged to pass a new living wage law, to increases taxes on the top 1% of New Yorkers (those earning over $500,000) to fund universal childcare and after-school programmes, to build or preserve 200,000 affordable homes, and to charge rent to charter schools (the inspiration for Gove's "free schools") located within traditional state schools. Again, there is much common ground with Miliband. The Labour leader has promised to expand use of the living wage through "Make Work Pay" contracts, to build 200,000 homes a year by 2020, and to halt the expansion of free schools. He is also likely to pledge to reintroduce the 50p tax rate on the 1.5% earning more than £150,000.

De Blasio said: "During my time in public office, I've taken on unscrupulous landlords; protected children who were victims of neglect and abuse; battled the corrupting influence of corporate money in politics; fought to repair broken policing policies; and championed working family issues like paid sick leave and living wage laws.

"As mayor, I will spend every waking moment fighting to bring opportunity to every New Yorker — with a plan to create jobs in all five boroughs; a dramatic expansion of affordable housing and accessible health care; increas-ing taxes on the wealthy to fund early childhood and after-school programs; and building police-community relations that keep everyone safer.

"That’s not simply a plan for tackling the inequality crisis. It’s my solemn commitment to every resident of the city we all love so much."

Like Miliband, de Blasio has come under constant attack from the Murdoch press (see yesterday's New York Post cover), which rejoices in highlighting his family's left-wing background (sound familiar?), and has frequently been dubbed "too liberal" to win. But as his success shows, in this era of collapsing living standards, the old conservative assumptions no longer hold. 

 

New York City mayoral frontrunner Bill de Blasio speaks at a campaign rally at Brooklyn Borough Hall on November 1, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How will Theresa May meet her commitment to low-earners?

The Prime Minister will soon need to translate generalities into specifics. 

The curtailed Conservative leadership contest (which would not have finished yet) meant that Theresa May had little chance to define her agenda. But of the statements she has made since becoming prime minister, the most notable remains her commitment to lead a government "driven not by the interests of the privileged few, but by yours." 

When parliament returns on 5 September, and the autumn political season begins, May will need to translate this generality into specifics. The defining opportunity to do so will be the Autumn Statement. Originally intended by George Osborne to be a banal update of economic forecasts, this set-piece more often resembled a second Budget. Following the momentous Brexit vote, it certainly will under Philip Hammond. 

The first priority will be to demonstrate how the government will counter the threat of recession. Osborne's target of a budget surplus by 2020 has wisely been abandoned, granting the new Chancellor the freedom to invest more in infrastructure (though insiders make it clear not to expect a Keynesian splurge).

As well as stimulating growth, Hammond will need to reflect May's commitment to those "just managing" rather than the "privileged few". In her speech upon becoming prime minister, she vowed that "when it comes to taxes, we’ll prioritise not the wealthy, but you". A natural means of doing so would be to reduce VAT, which was increased to a record high of 20 per cent in 2010 and hits low-earners hardest. Others will look for the freeze on benefit increases to be lifted (with inflation forecast to rise to 3 per cent next year). May's team are keenly aware of the regressive effect of loose monetary policy (low interest rates and quantitative easing), which benefits wealthy asset-owners, and vow that those who lose out will be "compensated" elsewhere. 

A notable intervention has come from Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative chair of the Treasury select committee. He has called for the government to revive the publication of distributional analyses following Budgets and Autumn Statements, which was ended by George Osborne last year (having been introduced by the coalition in 2010). 

In a letter to Hammond, Tyrie wrote: "I would be grateful for an assurance that you will reinstate the distributional analysis of the effects of the budget and autumn statement measures on household incomes, recently and mistakenly discontinued by your predecessor." He added: "The new prime minister is committing her government to making Britain a country that works 'not for a privileged few, but for every one of us'. A high level of transparency about the effects of tax and welfare policy on households across the income distribution would seem to be a logical, perhaps essential starting point." 

Whether the government meets this demand will be an early test of how explicit it intends to be in reducing disparities. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.