What can Labour learn from Joe Biden’s victory?

Despite the white noise and hot air emanating from an increasingly desperate Donald Trump, Joe Biden has been elected the next President of the United States. Whilst pre-election polls perhaps underestimated Trump’s ability to grow his base and overstated Biden’s prospect of a landslide, the scale of the victory for the Democrats should not go unrecognised. No incumbent President has faced the ignominy of failing to secure a second term in office since George H. Bush’s defeat in 1992. As well as this, Joe Biden has become the most voted for American presidential candidate in history; smashing Barack Obama’s 2008 popular vote record.

Like millions of people around the world, Kier Starmer; Leader of the Labour Party, would have been watching the election unfold with great interest. Whilst he will undoubtedly share the collective relief of many by seeing Trump voted out of office, Biden’s victory will have even greater significance for Starmer. It provides vindication for his leadership of the party thus far, and offers a tangible blueprint for Labour’s own path to government in 2024.

Unlike their more left-wing colleagues, neither Biden nor Starmer are seemingly able to draw upon swathes of young, passionate and idealistic grassroots activists. Yet the lack of enthusiasm amongst mainstay party supporters is outweighed by both candidates’ ability to appeal to the centre-ground.

During the wave of protests that gripped the U.S after the murder of George Floyd, Biden spoke unequivocally about the scale of systemic racism in his country and the life-stunting consequences it has for millions of his compatriots. He did not however go as far to endorse the polarising campaign to ‘defund the police’, instead highlighting the unquestionable role law enforcement has in keeping communities safe, whilst also supporting future reform. This calculation was masterful. Indeed, Biden’s victory was nearly derailed by the Trump campaign’s portrayal of him as a more radical politician. He haemorrhaged votes in Miami-Dade County, Florida, due to Cuban-American voters believing that his Presidency would be akin to that of Fidel Castro.

Comparatively, Starmer has spent his young tenure as leader precariously walking a tightrope, attempting to avoid falling into culture wars. He pressed the Prime Minister to swiftly enact the findings of the Windrush Review, but said it was ‘completely wrong’ for the statue of former slave owner Edward Colston to be toppled illegally (although was supportive of its removal). Starmer; like Biden, is intrinsically aware that ideological plays to their voter bases risk alienating the centre ground of electorates.

Both men have so far been rewarded for avoiding the temptation of indulging in the ideological fringes of their respective parties. Biden’s victory was predicated on substantial gains made in the ‘rust-belt’ states; winning back Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania after they voted for Trump in 2016. Across the Atlantic, since the summer Starmer has consistently won polls stating that he is more Prime Ministerial than Boris Johnson, and since Autumn, Labour have been leading in nation-wide polls. Whilst Biden repaired the ‘blue-wall’, future Labour success is contingent upon regaining ‘red-wall’ seats that compromise of a more socially conservative electorate compared to Labour’s urban strongholds.

Starmer and Biden both realise that the path to governance relies on inclusive politics that cultivates the support of middle-ground voters; less drawn to identity politics but more inclined to consider their daily lives and aspirations when at the ballot box. This is not to say that their brand of politics is devoid of progressivism. The incoming Biden Administration arguably posseses the most exciting manifesto in US presidential history, pledging support to the Green New Deal as a means to create a thriving green economy that tackles the existential threat of climate change. Starmer must be a passionate advocate for similar policies in the UK going forward.

Starmer has written in The Guardian on Biden’s election, imploring Labour to adopt a similarly ‘broad coalition’ of middle-ground voters that has swept Biden to the White House and ended one of the most divisive and destructive Presidencies in recent times. The Labour Leader knows that to end over a decade of Tory governance, his party will also have to practice a more inclusive brand of politics, devoid of the pitfalls brought about by culture wars.

Jamie Welham

Image source: Wikimedia Commons