Reach for the votes - Monocolumn | Monocle


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17 June 2015

At first glance, this appears to be a campaign video for a social democrat, a liberal at least. A black woman talks about struggling to get an education; a Hispanic man discusses his first job collecting rubbish that enabled him to feed his family; a woman talks passionately about the “epidemic” of domestic violence. “The barriers right now on people rising up is the great challenge of our time,” intones the candidate. “My core beliefs start with the premise that the most vulnerable in our society should be in the front of the line, not the back.”

The video, of course, is from a Republican, Jeb Bush, who formally announced over the weekend that he would be running for the presidency of the US. He will still have a message of low taxes and smaller government, but unlike some of his colleagues, Bush – or “Jeb!” as he hopes we will call him – understands that next year’s Republican candidate has to appeal to people outside the party as much as to the hardcore activists inside it. Voters will only listen to that message on the economy if the Republicans prove they have compassion for those they have traditionally ignored.

Which brings us to the UK Labour party. Following a second crushing defeat in five years, Labour is about to choose a new leader and nominations closed on Monday. The Labour party’s internal debate, though that word suggests a level of discourse yet to be reached, has unfortunately not made as much progress as the Republicans yet. Of the three main candidates, only Liz Kendall, the relatively unknown MP, has realised that Labour’s message on poverty and public services is likely to go ignored as long as voters feel they have nothing to say on areas outside their comfort zone. That doesn’t mean ignoring issues of low pay, underfunded schools or a National Health Service struggling to cope. Indeed, as Jeb Bush shows, there are votes in fighting for a better life for all.

But instead of appealing to those outside their party, Labour seems more concerned with comforting those within it. Hence the farce of MPs donating their support to the hard-left MP Jeremy Corbyn, despite not agreeing with a word he says, in order to placate a wing of the party that feels its views must be heard, no matter whether those views have any support outside a small and dwindling group.

Labour has traditionally copied its Democratic counterparts – slavishly so at times. Perhaps it’s time they learnt a lesson or two from the Republicans. Oh, and there is another lesson from the Republicans that Labour should take. Yesterday Donald Trump announced he would run for president. I note that not a single moderate Republican has backed his candidacy as an “important voice that needs to be heard”.

Steve Bloomfield is Monocle’s executive editor.


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