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The State of the Left

19 October 2011
The State of the Left

Can French success breathe new life into social democracy?

The French primary race captured public imagination and propelled Le Parti Socialiste into the headlines. The novelty of its format attracted many new friends, providing a vital platform for political alliances across the French left. The triumphant candidate Francois Hollande has unified the party, moving away from the “war of egos” which has consistently dogged past PS campaigns.

Whether the political energy generated by this format can be sustained in the presidential race remains to be seen. But both unity and the need to build new political alliances are recurrent themes.

In Germany, the troika in contention for SPD leadership – Sigmar Gabriel, Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Peer Steinbrück – are also united in their determination not to upset the party with leadership sniping and manoeuvring. Yet, party unity may be negated by coalition-building disunity: the Greens and the SPD have fallen out in Berlin with potential repercussions for the 2013 federal election. Will it bring more talk of a Grand Coalition?

As for the UK, despite predictions of factional infighting, the Labour party has broadly united behind leader Ed Miliband as he attempts to fill a substantial vacuum in political leadership. Meanwhile, in the US more fundamental political changes appear to be taking place to the benefit of Barack Obama. The Occupy Wall Street protesters and their emotive message of “greed” may well be shifting the ideological terrain to the left at a time when the Republican Party is heavily split on which presidential candidate it wants to fall behind.

In the Netherlands, the PvdA is busy asking itself what sort of friends it wants to keep. A debate about how much a social democrat should earn is swirling through party ranks, fuelled by a controversial proposal to expel public sector members who earn more than €180,000. The misuse of public money has also been high on the agenda in Sweden, where under-fire leader Håkan Juholt is fighting to hold his party together: his main problem may well be that he only talks to his party, neglecting everyone else.

New Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s unhappy coalition honeymoon is testimony to the manifold challenges which confront alliance and coalition building on the left. It underscores the need for social democrats to get better at making new friends.

View the latest opinion polls from 18 countries here »

Policy Network Political Observers

Reporting monthly from across the world, "the state of the left" features both regular columists and guest contributors.

France France - Hollande carries the flame for French Socialism

"François Hollande is heir to the French political “model” of ‘mitterrando-delorisme’. But can he beat Sarkozy? Can he do better than Ségolène Royal? Can he mobilise the working-class electorate, the ‘people of the left’, who have let the PS down at every election since Mitterrand in 1988?" BY LAURENT BOUVET

Germany - Is Germany moving towards a Grand Coalition?

Michael Miebach"With the red-green alliance stumbling, the pirates siphoning voters from across the left camp, and the Left Party remaining on the sidelines, it looks as if the left may once again have trouble getting a parliamentary majority... the return of a Grand Coalition has become a little bit more likely." BY MICHAEL MIEBACH

US United States - 'Occupy Wall Street' and the changing political landscape

Michael Lind"Because the political centre is relative, the dramatic left-wing street protests have shifted the centre to the left while enlarging the left-right spectrum. This allows Obama to appear more convincingly in the role he prefers, as a centrist, even as he promotes a solidly centre-left jobs plan." BY MICHAEL LIND

The UK UK - British leadership? The emperor has no clothes

John McTernan“So, the reality is that British voters have in Miliband a leader who gets it, but doesn't yet cut it as a leader in their eyes. And they have in Cameron a prime minister who has the swagger of a leader, but an economic analysis that was discredited in the thirties." BY JOHN MCTERNAN

The Netherlands The Netherlands - How much should a social democrat earn?

RENÉ CUPERUS"Is there a limit to a social democrat’s salary? This question has recently been posed within the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA). Furthermore, party chair Lilianne Ploumen has raised the stakes by announcing that party members who earn more than 180,000 euros risk expulsion from the party." BY RENÉ CUPERUS

Sweden - Crisis-hit social democrat leader hangs on

Katrine Kielos"Håkan Juholt has not given a single speech directed to the Swedish people. Juholt has been talking to the social democratic party – and that's something else. Maybe this is the main problem behind the extraordinary series of events that almost led to his resignation." BY KATRINE KIELOS

Denmark Denmark - Helle's honeymoon from hell

"The Social Democrats have been unable to get a firm grip on the leadership of the coalition, and while Helle Thorning-Schmidt travels to Europe to prepare for this spring’s EU presidency, the government seems to lack a clear sense of direction, coordinated leadership, or shared message." BY KRISTIAN MADSEN

Australia - Julia Gillard’s short-lived carbon tax victory

David Hetherington"At last, a ray of sunshine for the Australian left. On 12 October, after eight months of bitter claim and counterclaim, Labor's carbon pricing bill finally passed through the House of Representatives.Sadly Labor's sunshine lasted just one day." BY DAVID HETHERINGTON

Mexico - Can sound democracy heal an ailing state?

"Mexico’s democracy gets stronger with each passing election, but the state’s increasing economic vulnerability and perceived failings on law and order pose tough questions for 2012’s crop of presidential candidates." BY FRANCISCO JAVIER DÍAZ & ROBERT FUNK

Guest contributor: Poland - A new low for Polish social democracy

"The SLD is in a post-shock state: until the very last minute they assumed that it could not be this bad. Now they have to confront the polls and post-election analyses showing how they were out of touch with public discourse and very poor at political communication." BY ANIA SKRZYPEK


The State of the Left endeavours to cover as many countries as possible and will introduce new guest columns in the coming months, including Spain, Italy and Canada

Image: Parti Socialiste 2011


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