UK Politics US Politics

Long-Bailey and Biden: Why the Transatlantic Left are Sailing in Opposite Directions

Written by Fraser Innes

The main left-wing parties in both the UK and the USA are finding their new face to lead them into their next respective general elections, yet the two favourites could not be more different. Fraser Innes explores how different the two are and why they have risen to the front of their respective races.

Rebecca Long-Bailey entered Parliament in 2015. Her constituency battle was rather simple as she won a race to be the Labour candidate in a seat which the party has held since its creation and most of the seats it replaced since World War 2. There was little surprise that she won the seat with a wide majority.

Joe Biden initially ran for the Senate in 1972. He was running against an incumbent who had been a political force in Delaware for 26 years. He was chosen as the candidate as no other Democrat wanted to run against the former two-term governor. When he won the election by a slim margin there was great surprise that the young-upstart with very little campaign financing had overturned his 30-point deficit in the polls.

Long-Bailey represents a brand of Labour politics very far to the left of the political centre. While she has not produced a platform as of the time of writing, she will likely stand on policies not dissimilar to that of the outgoing leader who produced a manifesto both critics and supporters agree is the most radical put forward by a major UK party, ever.

Biden has always stood on a very moderate platform. Most analysis puts him as the second least liberal of those still in the race. While other candidates support Medicare for all, Biden supports merely widening coverage and the former Vice-President has faced criticism over past views held on civil rights and abortion.

But what little these two have in common, they both look to be the most likely people to lead their respective parties into the next general election. But why have the two risen to the front of their large, left-of-centre, opposition parties despite their differences in policy and experience?

How each party chooses its leader is very different, they vary in time, expense and the openness of the electorate.

The Democratic presidential primary is not a single vote, but a series of vote stretching from February to June of the election year, held in each state with different rules. However, generally they are open to all of those who aren’t registered Republicans or choosing to vote in the Republican primaries (which are largely symbolic this time around). This results in independents being able to vote for parties they are not members of and those running being having to attract the support of those unaffiliated, who tend to be more towards the centre.

Moreover, not all the sway is for regular voters as more than 15% of the votes at the national convention are given to so-called “superdelegates” who do not have to vote in a way chosen for them by voters. These tend to be those already in high ranking positions, who represent the party establishment and hinder the success of any radical candidates. There has been a suggestion that the power of the “superdelegates” should be limited by many wings of the party, yet no rule changes have been made.

By contrast, the Labour Party leadership election is held at one time, only four months after it was called, rather than the three-year-long posturing which followed Hilary Clinton’s 2016 defeat. This results in a quick decision being made which could potentially be more of a knee jerk reaction. Moreover, the electorate is Labour party members, trade unionists and registered supporters, who tend to be more left-wing than Labour voters and the public as a whole.

This has allowed Long-Bailey (and Corbyn before her) to gain the support of the left-wing of the party, which seemingly will be enough to make her leader of the opposition this summer. While the US Democrats have a system which makes the centrist, establishment candidates more likely to succeed as Biden has positioned himself well to do.

About the author

Fraser Innes

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