State of the Left - September 2011
In recent days, Denmark
has returned a social democrat-led coalition for the first time in 10
years, the German SPD has continued its winning streak of state
elections in Berlin and the much anticipated French primaries
have fully kicked-off with a TV debate - François Hollande still leads
the pack, running five points ahead of Nicolas Sarkozy in first round
Has Europe's political pendulum started to swing? If so, it is not
yet moving at any discernable pace. Despite recent successes, fear and
insecurity remain the prevalent sentiments among electorates. Voters
across the developed world will need much more persuasion if they are to
turn away from the apparent certainties of conservatism.
Indeed, across much of Europe it looks as if clever coalition
politics currently offer the best hope for social democrats – convincing
majorities increasingly appear to belong to a time gone by.
In Denmark, Helle Thorning-Schmidt might be the new prime minister
but her party recorded its worst result since 1903 and now must form a tricky coalition, leading a minority government that is highly dependent upon the anti-EU, socialist Red-Green Alliance.
Similarly in Germany, the victorious SPD
saw their share of the vote fall in Berlin, especially among young
voters – some of whom are attracted to the “pirate party” which is now
entering parliament. There is growing confidence within the party, but
it is a long way from becoming the thought leader in any credible 2013
electoral coalition. And in France, although there is both optimism and new found discipline in PS ranks,
it is one thing to win primaries and rise above the war of egos, but
forming an election-winning coalition across the French left is a
challenge of an entirely different order.
The centre-left PvdA in the Netherlands is well aware of such coalition dilemmas: stuck in the “eurozone blues”,
they are struggling to position themselves in an environment spiked by
anti-EU populism and right-wing austerity politics. Is it to this end
that they will convene an October strategy meeting with the German SPD?
At a critical time for the European Union, they would do well to mull
over the longstanding weakness in social democratic pro-Europeanism.
Meanwhile in the US, President Barack Obama has his own reason for a lament,
as his every move is blocked by a hostile Congress. It appears that a
climate of economic insecurity is the perfect backdrop for a
presidential run-off infused with culture wars. In Australia too,
despite a robust economy, Prime Minister Julia Gillard
is struggling to reassure a worried electorate, stirred-up by an
aggressively populist media. Curiously, this uncertain mood is not
present in Argentina, where Cristina Fernández looks set to be re-elected, polling 40% ahead of her rivals.
Finally, in Sweden, the legacy of the horrific attacks in neighbouring Norway has reminded everyone that political parties don’t exist to mirror the fears of the electorate.
And in post-riot Britain? The sociological analysis of urban unrest is still ongoing but political conclusions
are already being drawn. Next week’s annual Labour party conference in
Liverpool will serve as an important barometer of progress.
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.
Denmark - Rocky road ahead for new centre-left government
victory party lasted until the small hours of the morning, but
prospects of a new government would have inevitably soothed the
hangovers of party activists. The Social Democratic leadership, however,
might soon find itself nursing headaches of a different kind." BY
Germany - Berlin success inspires quiet confidence
things are remarkable about the elections in Germany’s largest city.
First, the high-altitude flight of the Greens has come to an
end...Second, the new “pirate party” reached a spectacular 8.9% of the
vote...Third, the attempt of the struggling liberal party to please
voters through anti-European resentment has failed." BY MICHAEL MIEBACH
France - New found discipline in Socialist ranks
Socialist Party kicked off its primary election campaign on Thursday
with a TV debate watched by almost 5 million people...the sovereign debt
crisis has disciplined the party and made it aware that any appearance
of carelessness would boost Nicolas Sarkozy’s prospects." BY ANTOINE
United States - Obstructionism remains the Republican game
and then a presidential election in the United States pits an
intellectual Ivy League “egghead” against a soldier and tribune of the
people whose intelligence is questioned by the American
intelligentsia—John Quincy Adams against Andrew Jackson, Adlai Stevenson
against Dwight Eisenhower. The egghead usually loses." BY MICHAEL LIND
UK - Labour will rue its soft response to the riots
brutal truth is that the riots which around the world were a symbol of
the failure of Cameron's fiscal conservatism...became an opportunity for
the Tories to strengthen their position as the party of law and order.
Ed Miliband will rue the day he eschewed populism - and a direct
denunciation of the rioters" BY JOHN MCTERNAN
The Netherlands - Eurozone blues
down by the eurocrisis, both the social democratic PvdA in the
Netherlands and the SPD in Germany are caught in an awkward catch
22-situation. The eurocrisis has opened a problematic split across
government and opposition lines." BY RENÉ CUPERUS
EU - Social democrats failing to make the case for 'more Europe'
democracy must not give way to a defeatist view in which transnational
policymaking must always and inevitably be less responsive to popular
demands and needs than more traditional modes of representative
democracy. But in order to hold this position, it must urgently raise
its game." BY OLAF CRAMME
Sweden - All is changed in Scandinavia, changed utterly
times like these we need political parties who don't mirror the fears
of the electorate back to them - but try to overcome them. Populist,
anti-immigrant, tribal, xenophobic, anti-globalisation language has
never been the future... It's not the solution to any challenge.
Especially not for the left." BY KATRINE KIELOS
Australia - All at sea with Julia Gillard
Voters have traditionally looked to progressive parties for security
against the market’s sharper edges, but in the wake of the Great
Recession, progressive parties have struggled to offer that. Even in
Australia, with its unusually strong economy, the prevailing emotions
are fear and uncertainty." BY DAVID HETHERINGTON
Argentina: A little heterodoxy goes a long way
"Argentina may have been the world’s most dramatic example of market
reform gone bad, yet it found a way to reclaim heterodoxy in a world
that had not yet left economic orthodoxy behind. " FRANCISCO JAVIER
DÍAZ & ROBERT FUNK