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Political Observatory

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.

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive the State of the Left bulletin each month direct in your inbox or browse our archive below.

Contacts:

Editor: Michael McTernan (mmcternan@policy-network.net)
Syndication and media inquiries: Seamus Nevin (snevin@policy-network.net)



   State of the Left - March 2014


The rise of the vetocracy: Political volatility and government

Two leading European countries with centre-left parties in power held local elections last week: the Netherlands and France.  It was the first round of the French contest that generated the big headlines – "A Front National bombshell"… "An incredible surge"… "Fear for our Cities" – owing to the breakthrough of Marine Le Pen’s movement in symbolic target seats (though they scored only 5% of the vote).
 
To many European observers the emotive Le Pen threat and the continuing troubles of François Hollande – the PS suffered another major setback – may have distracted from the 10% showing of the Dutch Labour party. The PvdA lost the ‘Red Big Cities’ and ‘The Red North’, the traditional strongholds of Dutch social democracy. It lost Amsterdam. It lost Rotterdam. It lost The Hague, Enschede and Groningen.
 
This electoral collapse cannot be laid squarely at the door of Geert Wilders’ populist Party for Freedom. Wilders ran a limited local campaign, and abhorred large sections of Dutch society by leading an anti-Moroccan chant on election night. The big blows were struck by absentation (an all-time high of 47%) and the rise of local independent parties across the country (30% of the vote).

The open political system of the Netherlands again highlights, at the extreme end, the challenge for the left in fashioning an effective response to the crisis and building winning electoral coalitions from it. Adding to growing social and value divisions in European societies, heightened post-crisis distributional conflicts are splitting up the vote. In this vortex, votes are increasingly leaked on all fronts: to Populists as well as Social Liberals, Conservatives, Greens and Socialists; to local and single-issue parties, or to absentation and protest.

Populism in this sense is the menacing - and headlining grabbing - element of a long tail of challengers. In this hostile environment focus-group led politics looks no substitute for effective leadership.
 
This is the social democrat fight. Across Europe it takes different forms, with new Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi being the most aggressive agitator for a centre-left revival. His ‘bulldozer’ style and volley of political promises has set him apart. Then there is the hope of “Milibandism” in the UK; a more principled game-plan to put equality centre stage. In Sweden, there is a quieter war of attrition: the approach of Stefan Löfven, tipped to win the 2014 election in September, is anchored in credibility and cautious statesmanship.
 
Angela Merkel’s score of 42% in the 2013 German federal election shows that big wins are still achievable (albeit recorded in comparatively favourable economic circumstances). But it will take some-thing special in a fractured political landscape. This is the latest lesson from the Dutch political laboratory.




This month’s State of the Left combines reporting on political developments and elections in eight countries with three in-depth feature essays: JÜRGEN KRÖNIG on Germany’s volatile energy politics; PAU MARI-KLOSE et al on the effect of the crisis on the Spanish Social model: and MICHAEL LIND on the emerging political order in the United States.



This month’s edition includes: Netherlands, UK, France, Italy, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Australia, Germany, Spain and the United States.

View the latest opinion polls on social democratic parties from around the world




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