Day 4 of the Young Fabian Delegation to the United States started with a key meeting in the heart of the nation's capital: Washington DC. The HRC (Human Rights Campaign) represents the rights of LGBTQ people across America, and their allies. Founded in 1980, the history of the HRC is fascinating.
Anyone who knows me well will know that I love trains, so it was no surprise that I woke up nearly of my own volition on Wednesday to be there nice and early for the Amtrak to Washington DC. After coffee and more bagels, we grabbed our wheelie suitcases and trundled down to the bus stop. $3.50 was well worth the view of Manhattan.
In the rush to distance themselves from the New Labour era, many of the party’s brightest thinkers have failed to form a coherent analysis of the Blair/Brown legacy. It has become common parlance to criticise the last Labour government for overspending and to place the Iraq War at the centre of the party’s recent history. But in all the obvious finger pointing and distancing, more nuanced debates have been missed, particularly around Labour’s altering relationship with trade unions.
Having fuelled up on bagels and coffee, we set off to the centre of New York to join the Clinton campaign’s phone canvassing session. We were still amazed by the efficiency of the phone canvassing system, despite having used the system the previous day! Interesting anecdotes included some voters leaning towards Hillary and one voter who asked how Hillary could be President from jail. It seems that the allegations of Clinton’s email server misuse have left an impression on certain voters.
The Young Fabians delegation to Washington D.C. and New York kicked off with the delegates getting on the phones for Hillary Clinton's campaign and playing their part in talking to votrs across Pennsylvania about the upcoming Presidential elections. Many of the delegates were experiened Labour phonebankers, and drew important compatisons between the practices of both parties' telephone campaigning; we were particularly impressed by The Pennsylvania Democrats made good, efficient use of campaign technology.
We later made our way to an Irish bar near Broadway to have a chat with Richard Bruce, a member of the Labour International CLP. Each of the delegates pitched their research projects and engaged Richard in debate about their chosen subject. The delegates felt that it was interesting to hear from the perspective of a Brit observing US politics on the ground.
“Hast thou, spirit,
Perform'd to point the tempest that I bade thee?”
– William Shakespeare ‘The Tempest’
And Ariel did make such a storm – enough of a thrash to crash Alonso and his crew’s ship unto the frightening shores of the uninhabited island – but as fate had it, they weren’t destined to be damned forever.
American foreign policy has long been defined by its self-belief. After a hiatus during the Obama years, could American Exceptionalism be set for a comeback?
One of the most oft-repeated maxims of the past six months is that we are now living in a post-truth politics. It is so omnipresent, because, ironically, it is true, and it has been true about nothing else as it has been about the EU referendum.
I think it is important to not see the referendum as the previews to the American presidential election’s opening night, although it is tempting to do so. Although on a global scale many populist movements are rising-- many of them right-wing and reactionary-- none of them are identical in scope or character. Nigel Farage stood beside Donald Trump on a stage and spoke a similar language, but not the same one. One is clueless about governance, the other an old hand, and both claim outsider status. Donald Trump is winning despite having no experience. Nigel Farage is considered a maverick despite having been an MEP for 15 years. They are merely brothers, not identical twins, in sowing the seeds of division and hatred.
But they are taking advantage of similar levels of ignorance, where blaming your neighbour is easier than blaming market forces, and an extremely clear example of this is the public attitude to international trade in our new, increasingly globalised world. Donald Trump does not practice what he preaches, but it doesn’t matter. Of many, many examples, Donald Trump preaches the importance of American made, but favours Italian suits-- but when he does this, it's different. When he does this, it’s not a betrayal, but a sign of affluence, and, apparently, greed is good. He tells us so all the time, so that, too, must be true.
On the day of the referendum, I stood in the garden of a man who worked in the automotive industry trying to convince him that a vote to leave the EU could cost him his job. We live in a region that exports more than it imports, and which has a significant part to play in the international car industry. Car factories built in the North East of England were built to have easy access to the European Union, and throughout the referendum we heard numerous car companies insinuate or out-and-out state that they would seriously consider moving their factories if the UK voted to leave. I said this to this man, standing in his garden, in the blisteringly hot sun, and he said that it didn’t matter. We would sell the cars to somebody else, in South America maybe. I left that man’s garden knew that even though he said to me that he was undecided, he was going to vote to leave. It didn’t matter what he said to me, and it didn’t matter what I said to him: my facts wouldn’t change his beliefs.
This was a case where facts didn't matter. It is easy to say that we can trade with other countries, but it shows a lack of understanding of how trade works-- perhaps a lack of understanding that politics as-is fosters. Of course you can sell cars to South America, but first you have to get them there, and that costs serious money. Of course you can sell fruit to Australia, but first you have to make sure it survives the journey to ripen when it arrives. Of course you can sell to whoever you want, but deliberately sabotaging the biggest market you already have is something no good business adviser would ever tell you do to. But on the 23rd of June, we did.
From an American angle, we now live in a world where our trade relationship as it existed with the USA is now rendered obsolete. Our trade deals with the USA were negotiated through and signed by the EU, acting on behalf of its 28 member states. If we accept that we are leaving the European Union, which more than 17 million people have demanded we must, we will virtually be starting from scratch. TTIP -- the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership -- the massive trade deal which would have regulated American/EU trade in order to make it easier, is now effectively dead in the water, especially without the British government to push for it, as the Conservatives have always been its strongest advocates. It had been highlighted by some groups, including the AFL-CIO that TTIP had in theory the possibility that American labour standards could be improved, but this, too, is now probably an impossibility.
It is also, in theory, exciting to live in a world full of such infinite possibilities. It is unfortunate that in practice these possibilities are likely to be very bad for everyone who is not a multinational corporation. If we are doomed or blessed to live in a post-truth politics, perhaps the way to take back control of the narrative is to change it. An issue raised on the left about TTIP was that it was negotiated in secret, that the people who elected their negotiators wished to know exactly what it was being negotiated on their behalf. There are unlikely to be many good consequences of our exit from the European Union, but the hope of a more open world might at least be one.
Mercedes Broadbent is a Young Fabian member attending the USA Delegation
John. D. Rockefeller once said that he tried to turn every disaster into an opportunity. Equity markets have decided to do the opposite when reacting to the collapse of oil. Falling oil prices have historically been positive for the world economy, given the redistribution of purchasing power from producers to consumers. However, markets have focused on the direct negative effects of lower oil prices without looking ahead at the potential positive outcomes.
The deadly Orlando shooting of 12th June 2016 left 49 people dead in the popular gay nightclub, Pulse. This, just 5 months before one of the strangest, most unorthodox and at times unpredictable of US Presidential Elections reaches its conclusion on November 8th. With the stakes so high, and the balance of political power in play within the Senate, Presidency and Supreme Court, is all as well with Gay Rights in America as it may seem?
Rewind almost 12 months to 26th June 2015 and you would be forgiven for thinking that real and lasting change had taken place in America, at a pace not often associated with US Politics. The Supreme Court had ruled that state-level bans on same-sex marriage were legally unconstitutional and unequal in the eyes of the law, in the now famous Obergefell vs Hodges case.
Indeed, regular polls (including the Huffington Post’s) show support for same-sex – the cornerstone equality issue for LGBT rights in the States – is consistently above 60% and trending in an upward direction. But that of course does not mitigate against so-called “lone wolf” attacks such as that carried out by Omar Mateen in the name of, but not necessarily motivated by, Radical Islam. This was as much a hate crime carried out by a deeply disturbed individual as it was one inspired by a radicalised individual
So does this single terrifying instance (the worst shooting in US history) act as a symptom of a wider problem? Is this an issue that will be raised at the Ballot Box and how are the Two Campaigns addressing Gay Rights?
It’s fair to say (and encouraging) that the evidence for the first question leads to a pretty unequivocal ‘no’. But the second question has to be answered in the affirmative.
Clinton has been a high profile advocate for LGBT rights now for many years, long before it was fashionable. And although not always the first to do so, she has backed recent guidance from the Obama Administration on transgender students’ access to restrooms matching their gender identity; the 2015 Equality Act preventing discrimination through the sale of every day Goods and Services as well as the high profile Equal Marriage fight through the US Courts system.
Trump on the other hand has a much more chequered, some might say genuinely confusing, record. He has typically been in favour of ‘Traditional Marriage’ between a man and a woman, but has made comments in support of individual same-sex couples (including Elton John and David Furnish), suggesting that there is no clear, consistent animosity there. On the very current issue of ‘Transgender Bathrooms’ he believes it should be down to “States’ Rights” to decide this and issues like it, but strongly criticised North Carolina’s recent restrictive legislation on this issue. He also uses a complex, confusing and somewhat cryptic, New York Times profile piece analogy with Golf’s ‘Long Putter’ to describe further his position on Gay Marriage. Yet, surely the triviality with which he compares a human right to a peculiarity of the Game of Golf speaks to a wider concern about his temperament and judgement to be President of the United States. Certainly he showed no leadership of any kind in backing away from the ‘Platform Fight’ when the Republicans met in Cleveland for the quadrennial Convention in July, where a set of clearly conservative values were espoused, once more, by the Republican Party.
So where are we now with the Election itself only a little more than 2 months away? Well there has been scant polling on LGBT voters, with evidence showing that they make up perhaps around 5% of the US electorate. What polling has been conducted (the well-cited May Whitman Insights Strategies poll) suggests Clinton is far ahead, by 84% to 16%, and further so that even Obama, at 77% to 23% vs Romney in the campaign of 2012. However this polling did not include so-called ‘Third Party’ candidates – Stein and Johnson, who have since shaken up the race and are worthy of an article of their own at this juncture.
Overall however, it’s fair to say that Clinton remains the clear favourite with LGBT voters and this particularly active and vociferous portion of the US electorate will stand behind her slogan of ‘I’m With Her’ with quite some conviction in November.
Peter Ptashko is a Young Fabian member attending the USA delegation
Trump’s populist rhetoric encompasses the most emotive and populist issues on the far right of the Republican Party. Despite this, his stance on abortion and reproductive rights has been far from coherent, angering both sides of the debate. Does Trump’s rise – signifying the collapse of the moderateRepublican Party – further enable progressive reproductive policies? Or does his populism simply demonstrate how far the US has to come in this policy area?
I imagine that young people in the UK often taken for granted the accessibility of reproductive healthcare. Emergency contraception is readily available from local pharmacies, free contraception available on the NHS, and there are confidential sexual health clinics in most towns and cities.
The experience for many in the US is very different to this. Although the 1964 Roe vs Wade ruling remains in place – maintaining the baseline requirements that all states must permit a minimum period where abortion is legal – the ruling is becoming less effective, given that many counties in the US do not have any abortion providers at all. In Texas, a state almost three times the size of the UK, only 9 abortion providers remain. For women unable to afford transport – and too scared to ask for help - this proves an impossible situation. Between 2013 and 2015, reports showed that over 100,000 women in Texas alone had attempted to self-induce an abortion.
Like many of his policy positions, Trump’s stance on reproductive justice has often been incoherent, and often angering both Democrats and moderate Republicans alike. He has frequently commented that women should be denied access to abortion, stating that for women that do, “there has to be some form of punishment.” This serves to damage pro-life campaigners who have usually put forwards their case on the platform of religion, and the best option for the mother and the child. Discourse stigmatising female sexuality is often surrounding these claims, but often not promoted by ‘mainstream’ leaders of the cause.
Hilary has maintained her strong pro-choice platform, while being the first candidate in a primary race to have accepted an endorsement from Planned Parenthood. Furthermore, the “Republican Women for Obama” campaign, prominent in the 2012 presidential race, are again making appearances this year, following the libertarian principles that the Democrat stance on reproductive healthcare allows them (and their families) more autonomy than the Republican nominee would.
Despite the prominence that Clinton’s campaign has given to progressive reproductive healthcare policies in moderate spheres of US politics, the Republican Party is simply trying to play catch up with Trump. Like the threat of UKIP in the UK encourages anti-immigration populism among moderate politicians as a perceived vote-winner, Trump’s rise has shifted what it means to be a ‘moderate’ Republican politician, and further emboldened the pro-life advocates in the party.
The good news for pro-choice campaigners, is that this rhetoric from the Republican Party only satisfies the base vote and further alienates moderate voters. However, unless the Republican Party collapses completely, it is likely that Trump’s rise – and likely defeat – will only serve to accelerate the polarised geography of reproductive rights in the US.
Jenny McConnel is a Young Fabian member & will be attending the USA Delegation in September
Individual Electoral Registration (IER) was ushered in amongst cries of gerrymandering in the summer on 2012; by February 2013 it had been rushed through Parliament and was law. But love it or loath it IER is here to stay. The question now is what can the Labour Party do to ensure it’s not left at an electoral disadvantage?
There are two ways the Labour Party can adapt to this change in the electoral landscape, firstly through legislative and procedural changes – making sure that the system actually works. Secondly, by changing how we campaign. In both cases we can, and must, look to our American cousins for guidance on what to do and what not to do.
In the UK IER is not new, nor is it a Conservative idea, indeed it was in the 2010 Labour Party Manifesto and has been in place in Northern Ireland since 2002. But it brings with it unique problems – most notably the number of electors, and particularly young electors, who have fallen off the electoral register. Between December 2014 and December 2015 the electoral register became 1.48 MILLION voters lighter, despite a growing population.
IER is more of a problem for Labour than it is for the Tories for a number of reasons. Firstly studies suggest that Labour’s core groups of those from a lower socio-economic and the young are less likely to register and even if they are registered they are still less likely to vote. The transient nature of our core vote means that they are more likely to fall off the register as they need to resign every time they move.
So what can be done?
Here is where we can look to the USA for guidance. Although research by the Pew Charitable Trusts estimate that in 2012 at least 51 million Americans (24%) are not registered to vote there have been numerous studies which look to address this. They have highlighted two main paths to increasing voter turnout.
The first is by opening the number of avenues to registration. In 1993 the ‘Motor voter’ Act was passed which required states to offer citizens the ability to register when they renewed their driving licence. The act also allowed states to offer voter registration through public institutions such as libraries, schools and disability centres. In the UK, where electors have to register either online or by the post there is a clear case for opening up this process.
Additionally the Act allows states to implement same-day registration. Meaning that voters do not need to have remembered to register weeks before an election but can register as they are going into the voting booth. In the UK the website for voter registration crashed on the final day of registration for the EU referendum so allowing same day registration would seem sensible.
The second way of increasing voter turnout is to reduce the barriers to being able to register. In several US States the opposite has been happening, with some states attempting to implement ID restrictions on electoral registration. Earlier this year court cases were heard in Texas, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Kansas where the state had tried to restrict the ability of individuals to register of vote, under the guise of restricting voter fraud. This is particularly pertinent as Eric Pickles has recently called for photo ID to be required when voters attend their polling station, again under the auspices to trying to reduce voter fraud.
In the UK you need to know your NI number to register online. While this is not necessarily overly burdensome it does create a barrier to being able to register as not everyone will know or have immediate access to their NI number. Being able to register at government centres, with a photo ID could provide another avenue to easy registration.
But it is not just through legislative and procedural frameworks that the Labour Party must look. Being in government is the best way to ensure those changes and for now at least we are in opposition.
Therefore we must look at having registration drives as a core part of our long term electoral strategy, as they are for the Democrats. The principle behind this is simple, in order to win an election you need to ensure that your supporters vote, and to do this you first need to ensure that they are able to vote. It is essentially an extension of the Get Out The Vote (GOTV) strategy. Parallels can be drawn with the Labour leadership election in 2015 whereby Jeremy Corbyn was able to win by ensuring that the electorate was in his favour.
There will need to be careful consideration as to how this works in practice, previously we didn’t knock on doors where there was no one registered but this might have to change as it could be a house filled with unregistered, Labour supporters.
Labour now need to look ahead as to how it’s going to look to tackle these problems but it’s best chance of doing so successfully is by looking at where others have succeeded or failed in the past.
John Sailing is a Young Fabian member and will be attending the USA delegation in September