Left behind or central to the cause?

The defeated Left in the UK and US has opted for centrist candidates to regain power, but their challenge is to win the centre ground while retaining the support of harder left voters.

Joe Biden’s confirmation as the presumptive Democratic nominee came just four days after Sir Keir Starmer was elected leader of the Labour Party.

This is a clear indication that both parties don’t feel a far left or radically progressive candidate can return them to power. Members, supporters and other agents have worked to ensure future elections will be contested with moderate or soft left leadership, but while they bid to bring centrist support and swing voters back to their electorate, neither will want to lose valuable votes from the harder left.

Starmer demonstrated a recognition and unwillingness to alienate the party’s left wing during his campaign despite many commentators maligning it, along with Jeremy Corbyn, as unelectable.

The new leader tread carefully when baited on Corbyn’s character and has included policies championed by his predecessor in his own manifesto, such as those on climate change and the common ownership of public services. When he did criticise the previous leadership on issues such as its handling of anti-Semitism within the party, it was done with the carefully chosen phrasing one would expect from the former Director of Public Prosecutions turned politician.

Equally, Biden will want to gain support from the youth-led Bernie Sanders movement which propelled its candidate into a commanding early lead that forced the former Vice President to issue an urgent plea for his moderate rivals to end their campaigns and endorse him. It worked.

Democratic supporters’ biggest fear, stemming from Clinton’s defeat in 2016, is that Bernie voters will be so discouraged with the choices presented to them on polling day and will opt to stay home, opening the door for another Trump victory. Sanders himself recognises this risk and took less than a week to endorse Biden, markedly quicker than the four weeks before he endorsed Clinton after she became the presumptive nominee in 2016.

Bernie had a simple message to his supporters. “We’ve got to make Trump a one-term president.” Similar unity between left wing and centrist groups in the Labour Party will be required, but just how far Starmer is willing to go to appease pressure groups such as Momentum remains to be seen. 

Labour needs every vote it can get to reverse its worst General Election defeat since 1935. Democrats understand that Trump remains a dangerous campaigner with a fanatical base.

Both are targeting the centrist swing voters as priority but know that far left votes could tip the balance.

Don’t be surprised if Labour sends observers across the Atlantic in the autumn to follow the Democrat campaign. The lessons learned there – for good and bad – will influence how Starmer performs his own electoral balancing act.

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