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State of the Left is a regular insight bulletin that reports from across the world of centre-left politics.

Each month it combines a Policy Network editorial with a range of political opinion pieces from expert commentators in different national settings. Regular contributors and guest writers ensure insight on key political developments and debate across Europe and beyond, including the US, UK, Germany, France, Sweden, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, The Netherlands, Spain, Greece, Italy and Latin America.

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Editor: Michael McTernan (mmcternan@policy-network.net)

   State of the Left - December 2014

Sweden shows northern Europe's political volatility
Next year voters in Britain, Denmark, Canada, Sweden, Finland and – depending on the outcome of a parliamentary vote on 29 December – Greece will go to the polls.

In none of these countries is a victory for the centre-left a certainty; a reflection less of the strength of traditional centre-right opponents, but more of the shifting electoral landscapes – apparent in the rise of populist parties and the decline of traditional attachments – in each of them and, indeed, many other democracies.  And, as the reports in this month’s State of the Left demonstrate, while the likes of Podemos and Syriza attract considerable media attention, political volatility is not simply the preserve of southern Europe.

That was most dramatically shown earlier this month in Sweden. From there, Katrine Marçal details the collapse after only two months in office of its Social Democratic government, the result, in part, of the substantial gains made by the xenophobic Sweden Democrats in September’s general election. A defeat over his budget found the normally patient and cautious Stefan Löfven calling a snap election for March following political chaos the likes of which has not been seen in the country since 1958.

As John McTernan suggests, Britain’s general election in May resembles “a game of four-dimensional chess” as populist parties of the right and left – the UK Independence party, Greens and Scottish National party – threaten to deny either Labour or the Conservatives, both stuck way below 40 per cent in the opinion polls, a parliamentary majority. That those chess pieces are in constant motion is evident in Italy where, as Mattia Guidi argues, the principal challenge to the still-popular Matteo Renzi comes not from the previously headline-grabbing Five Star Movement of Beppe Grillo, but the new Northern League leader, Matteo Salvini, who was the star guest at the recent French National Front conference.

Both of Finland’s governing parties – the Social Democrats and the centre-right National Coalition party – have experienced “internal turmoil and soul-searching”, reports Mikko Majander. But it is not the populist True Finns – whose strong third-place finish in 2011 forced the two parties into an uneasy coalition government – who have been the beneficiary, but the centrist Agrarian party. This somewhat unusual development stands in stark contrast to Greece, where, finds Yannis Palaiologos, the prospects of a general election in late January or early February producing a government led by the left-populist Syriza party remain strong.

There is better news from Denmark where, after three years languishing in the polls, Denmark’s Social Democrats at last have something to cheer, says Kristian Weise: signs of an economic recovery and a “red budget” which has united the sometimes fractious centre-left parties which make-up Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s government.

As we look to the new year, the one certainty is that these elections will continue to provide plenty of evidence that long-familiar party systems are now in a deep state of flux – and that Greece will be back with a vengeance.

This month's State of the Left features critical analysis on Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

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