The Special (Centre-Left) Relationship 

This will be the fourth time the UK and US will share an election year. Two from the past three election resulted in both a Democrat and Labour win. Not bad statistics to work from. Enough to give you hope, but not enough to rest on your laurels.

It makes sense that two political parties that have traditionally been linked closely together, continue to learn from each other. Our recent trip to Washington, hosted by the Progressive Policy Institute and Progressive Britain, felt like a continuation of this genuine partnership and exchange of ideas. I also departed feeling much more positive about the prospects of the centre left in both countries than I did when I boarded a plane for home after campaigning for Hillary, and suffering that crushing defeat in the 2016 Presidential Election.  

As Labour and the Democrats both prepare for elections in 2024, it was useful for us to learn what has and hasn’t worked in the US, and for US politicos to learn from the UK Labour Party’s journey going from near oblivion to being at the cusp of power only a few years later. 

As parliamentary candidates, we found it hard to hide our envy over the Democrats actually knowing when their election will be. It gives them the ability to plan in a way we in the UK can’t. However, when talking campaign strategy, we left feeling the UK Labour Party is in a pretty good place. 

There are a number of parallels between Labour’s approach and the Democrats’ campaign. Our key demographics and target voters are similar on both sides of the pond. Women, young people and working-class communities are all targeted. In some ways easier in the UK, as one Congresswomen told us “All Americans think they’re middle-class, whether they are or not.” 

It is evident however, that while the Democrats will heavily centre efforts on turn-out in swing states, Labour will need to go further and convert people who voted Conservative previously to Labour. Reassuringly, Labour’s targeting, messaging and campaigning techniques are laser sharp, from the use of multi-platform messaging, specific demographic targeting, to quality engagement with voters. This is all based on high quality data and supplemented by thousands of conversations happening on doorsteps by Labour activists every week across the UK. As we are unable to use (and buy) data in quite the same way as our American counterparts, due to the UK GDPR rules, it goes to show just how important canvassing really is to our wider campaign strategy and targeting.

An area for Labour to reflect on though is building our capacity with young people, especially within university towns and cities. The Democrats have the Young Democrats of America (YDA) who have a coordinated network of thousands. An army at their disposal wherever they need it most at any given time. We learnt that this army needs cultivating and motivating over time, but this is something well worth Labour exploring and investing in. It would certainty help in a big university city like Southampton. 

Messaging understandably is also an important pillar in both campaigns, with both parties using a broad over-arching theme to help provide a consist and coherent message. Where Biden has focused his campaign messaging around championing peoples’ ‘freedoms’, from the freedom to vote to freedoms over your own body; Keir is fighting for ‘security’ – a secure job, home, and feeling safe from increasing crime. Overall, both Labour and the Democrats know the most important battleground will be “the economy, stupid!”

There is a lot of to learn from Biden’s first term in office when it comes to the economy. If Labour do win the next general election, we know that our first and main priority will be to restore Britain’s economic prosperity; any possible victory this year is dependent on whether we are trusted to do this, and any chance of a Labour second-term will be based on whether people believe we are delivering on this promise.

The Biden administration’s decision to use stimulus rather than austerity to deliver economic revival is clearly working. The figures on Bidenomics speak for themselves, with America boasting the fastest growing economy in the G7. It has also delivered a rapid fall in inflation, rising real wages, and its investment in green infrastructure is decarbonising the US while also contributing to record job creation. However, it’s clear from Democrat approval ratings that they are not getting enough credit for it.   

As Labour work towards Keir’s economic renewal for Britain, arguably our own version of Bidenomics, we must learn some key lessons from across the pond. While investing in infrastructure and industry is the right strategy that will reap long-term benefits, especially in industrial places like Southampton, we must think carefully about how we show progress. This is partly a communications challenge but there is also a need to provide tangible examples of this plan working that voters can recognise early on in a Labour government. Without this, we may struggle when fighting for a second term.   

Overall, whether on campaigns or policy, there will always be fundamental differences between our political systems, which will impact how both the Democrats and UK Labour prepare for this election year. However, there is an enormous amount we can both learn from each other as we seek to re-establish our special (centre-left) relationship in 2024 in government. 

From campaign techniques to restoring the economic health of a nation, it is clear that each party understands the enormous task ahead of them, and are not taking anything for granted. Centre-left politics may have struggled in the recent past, but there’s much to be hopeful about in 2024 and all to play for.


To read more about the relationship between Labour and the Democrats, see Starmer steers Labour back to home port by Will Marshall, president and founder of the Progressive Policy Institute.