Keir Starmer urges Labour to learn from Joe Biden's 'broad coalition'

By Jessica Elgot

The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, has urged his party to learn from Joe Biden’s “broad coalition” which won back voters who turned away from the Democrats four years ago, pointing to the president-elect’s emphasis on “family, community and security”.

Starmer, an enthusiastic supporter of Biden’s bid who shares a WhatsApp group with his staff called “Let’s Go Joe”, said the victory of the former vice-president and his running mate Kamala Harris would “fill the void in global leadership” and was a vote “for a better, more optimistic future”.

Writing in the Guardian, Starmer suggested he intended his party to emulate the Democratic strategy of winning back US “blue wall” states like Michigan and Pennsylvania lost to Donald Trump in 2016, just as Labour lost its “red wall” of northern seats in 2019.

“This election had stark lessons for those of us who want to see progressive values triumph over the forces of division and despair,” Starmer wrote. “The Democrats’ path to victory this week was paved by a broad coalition, including many of the states and communities that four years ago turned away from them.”

Starmer said it “takes time” to win back trust of voters who abandoned their traditional parties, and suggested it involved talking about issues for which his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn had been criticised such as security.

“It takes political leaders who listen, learn and renew. President Biden spoke to the soul of the nation, with a focus on who people are and what they value: family, community and security,” he wrote.

“One election victory does not mean that work is now finished for the Democrats; for us in the Labour party, it is only just beginning.”

His appeal for his party to emulate the Democrats’ appeal to a broad base comes as his leadership faces its biggest test yet to party unity, with the suspension of former leader Corbyn over his response to the equalities watchdog’s report into antisemitism in the party sparking an outraged response from the left.

Starmer said Biden’s election was time to “reset that partnership” with the US, urging the government to seize the opportunity by abandoning its much-criticised move to renege on parts of the EU withdrawal bill, set to be debated in the House of Lords this week.

“We will soon have a president in the Oval Office who has been a passionate advocate for the preservation of the Good Friday agreement,” Starmer wrote.

“He, like governments across the world, will take a dim view if our prime minister ploughs ahead with proposals to undermine that agreement. If the government is serious about a reset in its relationship with the United States, then it should take an early first step and drop these proposals.”

Boris Johnson has said he intends to press ahead with the bill’s controversial clauses, despite facing near certain defeat when the House of Lords votes on measures on Monday.

The internal market bill gives ministers the power to unilaterally rewrite elements of the withdrawal agreement with the EU.

Starmer said a new US leadership could also lead to a more joined-up approach in global coronavirus vaccine research, as well as responding to security threats and the climate crisis.

“Equally, when our allies are wrong, Britain should be prepared to speak out and say so. We are at our best when the world knows we have the courage of our convictions and a clear moral purpose,” he wrote.

“In recent years, this has been absent. For the United States of America and for Britain, this is the time to return to the world stage. This is the time for us to lead.”

Starmer has not met Biden personally, but the shadow justice secretary, David Lammy, said Labour was on good terms with high-profile Democrats.

“Of course we are comparing notes, talking to one another, how do we defeat those with this sort of populist tradition, how do you move forward against the backdrop of culture wars?” he told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.

“I think that the Labour party in this country wants to be a party for the whole nation and not just one tribe. That’s what we’ve seen in the United States which Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and of course we will seek to replicate that.”

He said Labour and the Democrats were “sister parties in a sense”, and added: “I’ve got longstanding relationships with Democrats … my friendship with the former president Barack Obama is well documented.”