This week’s State of the Left brings a stark warning of the perils of political blandness and a reminder that, even when searching for coalition partners, centre-left parties must craft their own distinctive offer with broad-based electoral appeal.
Our New Zealand contributor, Josie Pagani, highlights a damning milestone in the history of New Zealand Labour: a decade since the once dominant party was last ahead of the conservative Nationals in any published poll.
She considers the problem to be self-inflicted – the result of the party turning in on itself and prioritising a forced façade of unity on the left at the expense of fresh thinking. Any contest of ideas has become heresy – the resulting lack of intellectual renewal has led to a bland political offer that repeatedly fails to resonate with voters:
“Behind the placards the public sees cynical, risk-averse and calculating individuals placating activists. Fifty shades of beige with a megaphone.”
By resorting to gesture politics and behaving like a different protest group each week the party appears to have given up on any effort to win outright.
“Although coalitions are normal in New Zealand's German-style proportional representation system, the strategy of trying to stitch together a winning majority from a base vote of around 30 per cent has failed three elections in a row.”
The lesson from New Zealand – that failure to build broad-based appeal leads to perpetual failure at the ballot box – is one centre-left parties would do well to heed the world over. Refusal to do so is a masochism strategy worthy of Fifty Shades of Grey.
In France, the recent government reshuffle has been seen as an effort by the Socialist party to build bridges with possible coalition partners on its flanks, with the entrance of Green leader Emmanuelle Cosse and increased representation for the radical left. Prime Minister Manuel Valls has been forced to oppose the Socialists’ official stance in support of a presidential primary, fearing this serves only to humour the far left.
In last month’s general election in Ireland there appeared to be no rejection of the centre left in policy terms and yet the Labour party racked up devastating losses. Rather than boldly asserting itself the party appeared too closely tied to its former coalition partner Fine Gael.
Meanwhile, in Spain, the negotiations to form a new government are still ongoing, with the Socialists trapped between centrists Ciudadanos and Podemos on their left.
There is greater hope from Canada, where Justin Trudeau’s Liberals pursued a courageous strategy to win outright in last year’s elections, despite the strength of natural allies the NDP. Now in government, their courage is paying off, with the party able to pursue a bold agenda to build a more open, progressive and plural society.