The leader of Portugal’s Socialist party, António Costa, is poised to become the country’s next prime minister. It is a bizarre twist following last month’s elections, where the Socialists suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the incumbent liberal-conservative coalition. Costa refused to resign, instead making overtures to the far-left Communist party and radical Left Bloc – a surprise ‘anti-austerity’ alliance formed, which has just succeeded in toppling the government. If the inevitable danger of the new alliance causing splits within the Social party can be averted, there is now the opportunity to positively redefine a historically difficult relationship between the centre and the far left.
By contrast, in Poland, where the socially conservative Law and Justice party has swept to power, the need for the left to reconfigure is born from necessity rather than opportunity. The late emergence of new-left Together movement, an echo of Spain’s Podemos and Syriza in Greece, thwarted the hopes of the hastily assembled United Left coalition to meet the threshold required to secure representation. The Polish parliament’s lower house now lacks a single progressive representative for the first time in the country’s democratic history. Poland’s left must now act fast to reimagine itself, or face possible extinction.
Events in Portugal and Poland may serve as a useful reminder of the risks and opportunities for an increasingly fragmented left ahead of forthcoming elections in Spain and Ireland. In both countries, an array of leftwing parties are jostling for position. An opportunity has arisen in Ireland, where the historically dominant Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are faltering – but it is nevertheless difficult to envisage how Ireland’s splintered left could form a government. In Spain, Pedro Sanchez’s Socialists facs a pincer threat from insurgents Podemos and Ciudadanos in a battle that looks set to redefine the country’s party system.
Italy and the UK offer the sobering lesson that, even where the left remains united under one party, simmering internal tensions can inflict damage at the polls. In Italy, Matteo Renzi will hope the economic success he has secured nationally can counteract the damage of divisions within his party ahead of local elections. In Britain, there is still a charade of unity following far-left Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader, but it is clear that the tensions that now exist between the party’s leadership and MPs are untenable in the long run.
There is positive news from Canada at least, where a landslide for the Liberals has brought an end to almost a decade of Conservative rule, despite a three-way fight with the NDP.