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Home News State of the Left - September 2011

State of the Left - September 2011

13 September 2011
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 presidential polls.

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   Denmark - Rocky road ahead for new centre-left government

"The 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 KRISTIAN MADSEN

Germany - Berlin success inspires quiet confidence

Michael Miebach"Three 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    France - New found discipline in Socialist ranks

AC"The 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 COLOMBANI

US   United States - Obstructionism remains the Republican game

Michael Lind"Now 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

The UK   UK - Labour will rue its soft response to the riots

John McTernan“The 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   The Netherlands - Eurozone blues

RENÉ CUPERUS"Pinned 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    EU - Social democrats failing to make the case for 'more Europe'

Olaf Cramme"Social 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

Katrine Kielos"In 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

David Hetherington" 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

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