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State of the Left - December 11

01 December 2011
State of the Left - December 11

State of the Left - December 2011

The collapse of the Spanish socialist government adds to a familiar casualty list: European social democrats have now lost 19 out of 24 elections (not including Latvia) since the fall of Lehman brothers.

It is evident, however, that centre-right governments across Europe are also the subject of increasing public anger in relation to crippling levels of unemployment, squeezed living standards, the eurozone crisis and unstable debt and deficits.

But as the political situation becomes more volatile, the room for manoeuvre is narrowing. Centre-left parties now need to sharpen their political alternative, moving beyond exposing the social costs of ill-timed and ideologically driven retrenchment: this means, first and foremost, taking tough decisions on how to combine social justice with a clear commitment to fiscal responsibility; it means spelling out what social democracy stands for with less money; it means, paraphrasing R.H. Tawney, moving on from demanding too little and offering too much.

Lessons should be learned from the PSOE defeat in Spain, where the party tentatively embarked on a reform path in the good times before performing a series of self-defeating policy u-turns when the crisis struck. New prime minister Mariano Rajoy will now pick up this agenda with a conservative hand.

In Germany, many believe that the robustness of the economy is in no small measure a credit to the reforms initiated by social democrats while in office from 1998 to 2009. Yet, with rising poll ratings, there is now a danger that the comfort of opposition will dull the party’s appetite for tough decisions. It remains to be seen how this will play out during the upcoming SPD congress were top-level taxation and pensions entitlements will be high on the agenda.

Finally, fiscal questions continue to dominate the news in the UK. Chancellor George Osborne’s promise to eliminate the structural deficit by 2015 has proved woefully unrealistic, calling into question his credibility. Labour now has a fresh opportunity to improve its poor polling and reclaim the mantle of economic competence.

Elsewhere, State of the Left features report on the Republican party in the US, leadership in Sweden, values in The Netherlands, coalition politics in Denmark, corruption in Brazil, progress for Labor in Australia.

We also have a special report from the annual Party of European Socialists' convention, which took place in Brussels last weekend.

View the latest opinion polls from 18 countries here »

Policy Network Political Observers

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

We are proud to welcome our new regular UK contributor, Hopi Sen, who will be replacing John McTernan. We would like to thank John for his insightful contributions and wish him the best of luck in his new role assisting the Australian Labor Party.   

   PES Convention - Squaring the circle of global markets and national politics

"PES Congress fell short of answering the key question: can the left show voters it possesses the inspirational leadership and credible economic solutions to launch a comeback?" BY ERIC SUNDSTRÖM 

   Spanish Election briefing - Socialism's historic defeat

"The PSOE registered its worst result since the re-introduction of democracy in 1978 with just 28.7% of the vote. A double U-turn on structural reform saw the party evade difficult leadership decisions and ultimately lose its political and economic credibility." BY JONÁS FERNÁNDEZ ÁLVAREZ

The UK   UK - The euro blame game

"The eurozone crisis is politically useful for both Osborne and Balls...Europe offers what Osborne calls “An explanation, not an excuse” for Britain’s faltering economy. Look, says the Government, things might be bad, but when even Germany can’t sell Bonds, we’re a safe haven." BY HOPI SEN

   Germany - Germany will not go back to the future

Michael Miebach"It is hard to imagine any of the ‘stones’ running a campaign with a programme of large tax increases, longer employment benefits, and higher pension levels while the euro-zone is wasting away...The next problem of social democratic credibility would be just around the corner." BY MICHAEL MIEBACH

   Sweden - Juholt steers Social Democracy into confusion

Katrine Kielos"Politics is to want” were the famous words of Olof Palme. "Politics is to choose” Pär Nuder often says, stressing the technocratic, economically competent side of the equation. Prioritising in a reality of limited resources is one of the most important currencies in politics." BY KATRINE KIELOS

US    United States - Headwinds for the Republicans

Michael Lind"The fact that conservative Republicans would rally, if only temporarily, behind the bloviating Gingrich, a thrice-married former speaker of the House and a former lobbyist, is a sign of desperation.  Gingrich used his new status...to denounce child labour laws and call for school janitors to be fired and replaced by poor school-children." BY MICHAEL LIND

The Netherlands  The Netherlands - The dynamics behind the Dutch world view

RENÉ CUPERUS"There remains an overall orientation towards both Europe and the outside world, but the balance of cost and reward, duties and responsibilities is controlled stricter than ever. The big question is to what extent the eurocrisis will fit into the new climate of conditional solidarity." BY RENÉ CUPERUS

Denmark   Denmark - Red scare for social democrat-led government

"Stumbling left-wing partnerships and a Cold War drama are preoccupying the social democrats while the rest of Europe scrambles to solve the euro crisis. Having to horse-trade...has made the first 2 months of government a mixed experience for Helle Thorning-Schmidt" BY KRISTIAN MADSEN

   Australia - Labor party finds a new dynamic

David Hetherington"Despite its strong policy programme, Labor still struggles to convince the electorate of its values. If the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of the government are clear, the ‘why’ is yet to emerge...to win back the public, Labor must lay out its progressive case for governing." BY DAVID HETHERINGTON

   Brazil - Rousseff’s struggle against corruption

"Rousseff knows that transparency and ethics provide an important moral basis for deepening economic and social reforms. She knows that if she is to move forward on the latter, she cannot fail on the former."  BY FRANCISCO JAVIER DÍAZ & ROBERT FUNK


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