David ‘Axe’ Axelrod has come in for some criticism for his lack of visibility in the UK since his appointment by Ed Miliband earlier this year. Apart from misspelling Miliband’s name on Twitter, the former Obama adviser has been noticeably absent and seemingly uninterested in UK political matters.
But perhaps Axelrod has been biding his time. Maybe he was going to call on his extensive network of political big beasts during Conference season to bring a bit of stardust to proceedings in Manchester. Perhaps, like the 1990s Saturday evening TV show Stars in their Eyes, Bill or Hillary would emerge from behind the curtain to inject some excitement and dominate the headlines, lifting Labour spirits as we head ever closer to a general election.
It seems, however, that the Clintons were busy. Rahm Emanuel, the Major of Chicago: washing his hair. Al Gore: busy saving the world. George Clooney: hunting for wedding venues. Finally, Axelrod had some luck. Bill could speak, after all, and would happily fly to England to help his good friend Ed. Unfortunately for the Labour leader, the Bill in question was not the former President of the United States, husband of potentially the next President of the United States and arguably the greatest living public speaker involved in politics. The Bill that ‘Axe’ had managed to land was the Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio.
Let’s just take a few moments to contemplate de Blasio’s record since he took office of one of the greatest cities in the world in January this year, and why perhaps inviting him to speak at a Labour Party Conference eight months before a general election may not be particularly wise:
- De Blasio’s first announcement was to propose a plan for a $530 million tax increase. His respected predecessor as Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, said that the plan was ‘unfair’ and would drive people out of New York. But de Blasio was too weak to force through his tax proposals – they were blocked by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
- De Blasio promised fiscal responsibility, but his 2014 budget came in at $75 billion – an increase of 7 per cent on the previous year. This included a projected 10 per cent increase in the cost of employing city workers.
- De Blasio raided $1 billion from New York’s Health Stabilization Fund to help settle a pay deal with trade unions. He also caved in to striking bus drivers, offering them a deal which involved $42 million of new spending.
- De Blasio has promised 200,000 more units of affordable housing over the next decade – but has offered no explanation of how they will be provided.
- De Blasio opposes the closure of failing schools, and wants to stop the increase in charter schools (the American equivalent of academies). He was also an outspoken critic of Mayor Bloomberg’s plans to make teachers more accountable, describing the policy as ‘needlessly provocative’.
On Wednesday the Labour’s party’s big name speaker will take to the stage to talk about why Ed Miliband is the man to manage our public finances and increase living standards. I, for one, am not sure the Labour leader should rely on a figure whose record includes raising taxes, unfunded spending commitments and caving in to militant trade unions. Thanks a lot, ‘Axe’.