Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

What can Labour learn from the Democratic national convention?

Having spent last week at the Democratic national convention in Philadelphia, it would have been hard not be inspired by the Clinton campaign. Sure enough, despite small protests from Bernie Sanders’ supporters (who represented no more than around five per cent of the total delegates at the convention), Democrats left last Thursday chanting ‘I’m with her’ and enthusiastically waving banners. While a Clinton win is not guaranteed this November, she emerges from convention season as the clear frontrunner, with a healthy post-convention bounce in the polls. At a time when the Labour party seems to be drifting ever further away from electability in the United Kingdom, what can we learn from our progressive friends across the Atlantic?

The first thing to note is that Clinton’s platform is clearly distinctive from her Republican rival’s, and in part that is because there are so many social reforms, which we would take for granted, but which are yet to be made in the United States. Effective gun controls, legislation to give women the right to equal pay and ensuring everyone has access to affordable healthcare are radical policy proposals for an American audience, but well-enshrined in law in the UK (even if implementation can be haphazard at times). It is arguably easier to call for progressive reform when it’s a clear change to the current legislative landscape, rather than a defence of pre-existing rights. The changes that Labour brought forward in government – introducing the minimum wage, civil partnerships and Building Schools for the Future to name just three examples – were a clear departure from the status quo and represented real change. In many respects, since 2010 we have been seeking to defend and expand the policies we introduced rather than create more radical change. Perhaps that approach is right, but it is more challenging to enthuse supporters about what seems like a bland policy offering.

Secondly, the Clinton campaign shows us what a progressive party under female leadership could look like. Unlike the Conservatives, who may have elected two female leaders but who continue to pursue a political approach which hurts women, or Labour, whose track record on electing women to high office continues to be a source of embarrassment, the Democrats have not only voted for a woman, but are now proudly saying that Clinton will be a champion for women everywhere. Over the course of last week a succession of women were given the opportunity to showcase the successes that they, as female politicians, had been able to achieve. They were not sidelined to a women’s conference – they were placed front and centre of the national party convention. Women at the convention were not left with the impression that they were there as a token gesture, but treated as equal political partners. For those of us with a background in UK party politics, this was welcome and felt radically different from the British experience.

Clinton has a tough fight ahead of her, but already UK politicians have much that we could learn from her style, energy and commitment to being a change-maker.


Maeve McCormack is a councillor in the London borough of Camden. She tweets @McCormackMaeve



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