Spiral Notebook: Why London's Left will be keeping an eye on New York Mayor Bill de Blasio

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By Giles Broadbent

It's Eyes Left as Bill de Blasio takes up residence in New York City Hall with the promise of the kind of new socialism that Labour's Ed Miliband has been test-driving.

Combining tax-the-rich rhetoric with redistributive zeal, De Blasio, a former aide to the last Democrat Mayor (David Dinkins), arrived from nowhere in the 2013 primaries to take the most important municipal post in the US on the promise of aggressive remedies to close the "affordability gap".

With these words, he broke the successful Republican tag-team that had enjoyed office since Dinkins lost in 1993.

The victor that time around, Republican Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, showed that rising urban crime was not inevitable, while Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in his 12-year stint, matched a corporatist instincts with some progressive social measures (education reform, smoking bans) that presented him as a Victorian patrician.

Now De Blasio, 52, who took the oath of office yesterday, has shaken up the consensus with a set of policies ripped from the old-school liberal playbook made palatable by the demeanour of this unthreatening, even dull, former councilman.

Intriguing, therefore, for policy-watchers to observe how an unashamed tax-and-spender can move forward a city that is founded on the proceeds - and the dream - of unfettered capitalism.

Previous Democratic regimes may have had the folksy charms of Dinkins and Ed Koch but they were saddled with the criticism now laid at the door of the Obama White House - fine words, muddled execution, no end product.

De Blasio's pitch and his appeal (70% support on just a 25% turnout) is to lessen the divide between the have and the have nots, to knit the twin narratives of his oft-told "tale of two cities" and to do so with principle, drive and, above all, competence. ("The road ahead will be difficult but it will be travelled.")

De Blasio couches his class war in unthreatening "one city / no-one left behind" terms that value opportunity as much as aid.

He says that heavy-handed governance and civil liberties are not mutually exclusive. He says that the wealthy should not feel threatened. He says we're all in this together. But there's no disguising he has the "one per centers" in his cross hairs.

He needs their tax dollars to fund his ambitious New York New Deal which promises universal pre-nursery childcare, rent subsidies, education reform and large-scale affordable house-building programmes.

Where New York leads, the world follows. And the parallels between the two great cities of the West are fitting.

London, too, is on a high, with its crime falling, its economy rising and its confidence growing on the back of a property boom. Fidgety, resolute citizenry, both sides of the Atlantic, have no time for recession.

On the flipside, those Londoners have no traction are slipping further behind, the property market is artificially skewed and the middle classes are feeling the pinch of the "cost of living crisis" that could push them into more sympathetic arms than those of the current incumbent who, despite a mollifying charisma, has dared to reveal his elitist world view ("it's your IQ, stupid").

Labour will be watching De Blasio closely. Not only because he is the most promising exponent of new socialism but because his strategy, if successful, could be a blueprint for a popular left-leaning tilt at the London mayoralty in 2016.

Picture: De Blasio, 6ft 5in, takes the Oath watched by his wife, Chirlane McCray. They have two teenage children.


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