Bill de Blasio, the left-wing mayor of New York City, is set to address the Labour Party conference in Manchester next week.
De Blasio became the first Democrat mayor of New York since 1993 last year when he won a landslide victory on the back of a radical left-wing campaign promising to hit the rich with high taxes.
His presence at Labour’s conference will raise questions about the political direction of the party that is still most likely to form the next UK government after next year’s general election. According to the Daily Mail, he has been branded by critics as being “as red as Ken Livingstone”, the left-wing former Mayor of London who signed an oil deal with Hugo Chavez.
When he was in his 20s, de Blasio, then even more radical than he is now, travelled to Nicaragua during the Contra War to help distribute food and medicine. As a young, radical leftist he supported the Sandinista party, which the Reagan administration had denounced as tyrannical and Communist.
According to the New York Times, he later helped raised funds for the Sandinistas in New York and subscribed to their magazine, Barricada.
Later, in 2002, he also helped honour Zimbabwe tyrant Robert Mugabe. The New York Post writes:
Brooklyn state Sen. Simcha Felder, then a first-year councilman, recalled being shocked by Mugabe’s visit.
“I asked around and found out what a madman Mugabe was,” Felder said, explaining why he stayed far away.
But de Blasio was there, along with other legislators, mostly from the council’s Black, Hispanic and Asian Caucus, who still considered Mugabe a hero for helping overthrow white colonial rule decades earlier.
He now admits, however, that it was a mistake to honour Mugabe.
His presence at the conference will also raise concerns for education reformers in Britain that Labour may try to imitate his schools’ policy.
The mayor has led a concerted campaign against New York’s charter schools, which are similar to Britain’s free schools and academies. The schools, which receive public funding but are largely independent, have been credited with providing a high quality education to children from deprived neighbourhoods, helping lift them out of poverty. De Blasio has tried to prevent new ones from opening, however, in a campaign that has drawn the wrath of parents and even other senior Democrats.
Although his approval ratings have fallen since he took office, Labour insiders are said to believe that he is proof that it is possible to fight a radical left-wing campaign and still win elections.
Ed Miliband said: “There have always been close links between the Labour Party and leading Democrats.
“But I am particularly pleased that Bill de Blasio has agreed to speak at our pre-election conference this year. I followed his election campaign closely and I have been impressed by the work he has done since taking office in January for everyday New Yorkers so they can begin to share in, as well as create, a successful future for their great city.”
He added: “We both recognise we face a generational challenge to ensure that hard work is properly rewarded, that young people get a fair shot in life, and that the cost-of-living crisis for working families is tackled.
“It is an international challenge for progressive leaders in the United Kingdom, in the United States, and across the developed world.”