Although it is easy to forget, with the UK on the brink of break-up, Labour’s final conference before the election opens in Manchester in four days’ time. The party has this evening announced that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio will be this year’s international speaker, a slot previously filled by Michael Sandel, Bill Clinton, and Nelson Mandela.
De Blasio, who last year became his city’s first Democratic mayor since 1993, has long been admired by Miliband’s team as a fellow social democrat and foe of inequality. He campaigned on the slogan “One New York, Rising Together” (an echo of the Labour leader’s “One Nation”) and warned of “a tale of two cities” as the rich pull away from the rest. Like Miliband, he supports greater use of the living wage, higher taxes on the top 1 per cent of earners, and a mass housebuilding programme. His victory in the face of a hostile press that demonised him as a Marxist was viewed by Labour strategists as further evidence that, in the post-crash era, it is possible to win from the left.
He said tonight:
The fight against income inequality doesn’t stop at a city limit, a state line or an international border. It’s an issue that confronts us all, in every corner of the world, and it demands a unified response.
To truly lift up more people, families and communities struggling to make it in tough economic conditions, we must truly have a shared vision, and a shared strategy.
There have always been close links between the Labour Party and leading Democrats. But I am particularly pleased that Bill de Blasio has agreed to speak at our pre-election conference this year.
I followed his election campaign closely and I have been impressed by the work he has done since taking office in January for everyday New Yorkers so they can begin to share in, as well as create, a successful future for their great city.
We both recognise we face a generational challenge to ensure that hard work is properly rewarded, that young people get a fair shot in life, and that the cost-of-living crisis for working families is tackled.
It is an international challenge for progressive leaders in the United Kingdom, in the United States, and across the developed world. I look forward to meeting the Mayor and to hearing a speech that I know will be one of the highlights of our week in Manchester.
De Blasio isn’t the first New York mayor to speak at a UK party conference. In 2007, his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, addressed the Tories in Blackpool (Miliband will be hoping for a conference as successful as that one).
One question worth asking is whether De Blasio will meet any of Labour’s actual or potential London mayoral candidates. For David Lammy, who recently launched his campaign for City Hall, Sadiq Khan, Tessa Jowell and Diane Abbott, a meeting with De Blasio would be a coup.