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.

Photo: Getty
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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.