For anyone horrified or mystified by aspects of the Republican Tea Party in Tampa, the Democrat convention would have been a relief. It was to us. Democrats are hungry to win – and to choose a different path.
Labour’s route to government requires us to learn from around the world. Obama is trying to move the Democrats on from the Clinton years, without making Gore’s error of disavowing his own legacy in government.
The radical right – Paul Ryan in the US; David Davis and Liam Fox in the UK – are on the march, demonising the state,especially the welfare state, as morally and economically bankrupt. We went to Charlotte to learn lessons for our fightback.
First, Clinton’s demolition of Romney-Ryan economic credibility was a masterclass. We can win the argument for fiscal responsibility – as long as we distinguish short-term Keynesian stimulus from medium-term prudence. In fact, as François Hollande is discovering, only medium-term prudence and reform gives you the policy space for short-term Keynesian stimulus. Ed Miliband was right this week to dismiss the demand for promises we can’t guarantee to keep as “crackers”.
Second, in the wake of the crisis, we need to be state reformers as well as market reformers. In the US it is striking that the anti-government Tea Party has so much more staying power than the anti-market Occupy movement. It is true that there is not a single successful economy today in which government does not play a vital role in driving forward market economies and standing up for the public interest. But there is another truth in the wake of the financial crisis: that government is on trial as well as markets.
So we need to be the people doing things differently when there is less money around. That was the lesson from Democratic governors and mayors at the convention. Like Labour in local government in the UK, they are refashioning the way the state does business – decentralising power, incentivising job creation, switching spending and engaging the voluntary sector – to achieve progressive outcomes.
Third, we win by looking like the whole of the country not just part of it. The Democrats, like Labour, cannot rely only on the New Deal coalition of the organised working class. So they are embracing the rising classes and groups in society such as Latinos and middle-income women. It helps that the Republicans are so aggressively wrong on issues of gay rights, women’s rights and minority rights.
We won’t have that luxury in the same way in Britain – unless the Tories really lose it culturally as well as economically – so we have to find new ways to connect our politics with the small businesswoman in Ipswich, the GP in Fleetwood, the personal trainer in Gloucester.
Fourth, America shows that money can still buy votes – and the right have got a lot of it. Romney will outspend Obama in the next two months, just as the Tories outspent Labour 2:1 in the last election. This matters. In Britain there is a structural imperative for Labour to take down the influence of money in politics – not just as a high- minded recognition of voter concern but out of sheer self-interest. Party funding reform is going nowhere. Labour should again try to reach out to the Lib Dems with the aim of working together to get big money out of politics. Some parts of the current system help us, but overall the Tories are the Party that stands to benefit most from stalemate.
The fifth lesson is about how we respond to the overwhelming sense that politics is small when the issues are big. People are fearful about the future. The convention came alive when the politics and speeches were worthy of the scale of the problems. Winning the argument does not win support if the voters have walked away. A politics that talks louder and louder to fewer and fewer people creates only a dangerous vacuum. We win when we offer a politics of building and not just blaming.
Finally, Obama should win on 6 November. But we need to get the incumbent here out. We can’t rely on David Cameron to throw away power like Nicolas Sarkozy in France.
• Douglas Alexander is the shadow foreign secretary and David Miliband is a former Labour foreign secretary