Two pieces of legislation contain many of the reforms that President Biden promised Americans on the campaign trail. The US$1tn Infrastructure Bill, which has received bipartisan support, seeks to repair the US’s physical infrastructure which has been deteriorating for the past thirty years. The Build Back Better Bill, at US$3.5tn, seeks to repair the US’s ‘human infrastructure,’ and provide measures to mitigate climate change. The Republicans and some moderate Democrats do not support it. The 90+ strong progressive Democrats in the House of Representatives have vowed that they will not support the Infrastructure Bill unless the Build Back Better Bill passes the Senate, based on an agreement by Democrats to support both. Two ‘moderate’ Democratic Senators, whose votes are necessary to pass the Build Back Better Bill, are withholding their support.
This impasse threatens to derail President Biden’s domestic agenda. At stake is the Democratic Party’s majority in both the House of Representatives and Senate at elections which are due in 2022 and President Biden’s potential loss of the Presidency in 2024. To avoid such a disastrous outcome, President Biden invited progressive and moderate Democrats in separate meetings in search of a compromise. Interviewed after the meeting, progressive Democrats were firm in their position, but hopeful. The size of the progressive wing in the Democratic Party is the largest in recent memory. It has succeeded in influencing President Biden towards a progressive agenda in his presidential campaign and an historic shift to the left in American domestic politics, in the face of a resurgent right wing movement. While President Biden, whose 36-year career in the Senate has defined him as a moderate Democrat, firmly aligned to corporate interests, he has surprised many by his bold, innovative programmes, comparable only to those of FDR to end the Great Depression in the 1930s. But he recognizes that his choices are limited, having regard to the growing strength of the progressive wing of the Party.
Across the ‘pond’ in the United Kingdom, a longstanding progressive Labour member of Parliament, Jeremy Corbin, succeeded Edward Milliband as Leader of the Labour Party, after the latter led the Party to defeat at the general elections in 2015. Jeremy Corbin’s election surprised many because no progressive of his credentials has ever won the leadership. Two factors were responsible for Corbin’s victory. The first was his historically progressive oriented policies. The second was the democratization of the election process. Prior to Corbyn’s election, an electoral college comprising Labour MPs, trade unions and members, having one-third of the votes each, selected the Labour leader. Ed Milliband reformed the system by giving Labour members the sole right to elect the Leader.
Corbyn advocated renationalization of public utilities and railways that had been privatized, a less interventionist military policy, reversals to austerity cuts and increases in social benefits. As a direct consequence of these and a wide range of progressive policies, at the general elections in 2017, the Labour Party obtained 40 percent of the votes, a 9+ percent increase, the highest since 1945, and reduced the Conservative Party government to a minority. At the next elections in 2019, the Labour Party suffered a disastrous defeat because of its indecisive position on the Brexit issue, promising a referendum on the negotiated agreement, while most Labour Party supporters embraced Brexit. They bolted to the Conservatives. Corbyn resigned as Leader and was succeeded by Sir Keir Starmer who, in his campaign, had pledged to uphold the unity of the Party and to support the same policies that the Party had advocated in both elections. Observers in the UK noted that Starmer won the elections because he supported the policies of the Left.
Since his election as leader Starmer has all but abandoned left policies and has demonstrated a determined effort to wreck the unity of the Labour Party by eliminating the left from all leadership and influential positions. The venom against the left reached its zenith when the whip was removed from Jeremy Corbyn, de-recognising him as a Labour MP, because he said publicly that allegations of anti-semitism against the Party were exaggerated immediately after a finding by an inquiry that anti-semitism indeed existed. An agreement was subsequently negotiated, under which the whip would be restored upon Corbyn making an agreed statement. He made the statement, but Starmer has dishonestly reneged.
The latest Starmer/right wing trick, due to be presented at the upcoming Labour Party conference, is to overturn the democratic ‘one member one vote’ principle and restore the autocratic tripartite electoral college, described above. Starmer hopes to succeed, but while he does so, he will be further diminishing his leadership. Already Starmer and the Labour Party have been consistently running below Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party in the polls. Every effort by Starmer to re-define policies to elevate his declining popularity has failed. Trapped in a downward spiral, the right wing pushing the proposal hopes that when Starmer’s leadership inevitably collapses, the Corbyn effect will not emerge again. Starmer’s backward policy to the left, as strong in the Labour Party as in the Democratic Party, and far stronger than in Tony Blair’s and Bill Clinton’s times, is in sharp contrast to Biden’s. Biden is succeeding, while Starmer is failing.