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Home News State of the Left - June 2011

State of the Left - June 2011

15 June 2011
State of the Left - June 2011

Policy Network, June 2011

It has been said that there is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary. In politics of course they can be one and the same. Nonetheless, time in the shadows leaves many centre-left parties actively seeking eye catching political messages to recapture the public's imagination.

In power this can sometimes be a relatively untaxing affair; removing a man from the top of the FBI’s hit list was enough to score Barack Obama a 9 point popularity boost, and demonstrate a streak of national security competence to silence many of his doubters. On the other side of the fence, scoring points doesn't come so easy.

With trust in both the market and the state at a low ebb, it is this air of decisive governing competence which European electorates appear to yearn for. As Olaf Cramme and Patrick Diamond write in today's Guardian newspaper, such credibility will chiefly come through the development of a robust centre-left political economy - as looks clear in Sweden and Denmark.

This also extends into how the left manages its country's trusted institutions. In the UK, Labour is watching eagerly from the sidelines as the Conservative-led Coalition implodes over the crisis of trust in their headline NHS reforms. Across the Atlantic, the Democratic administration is in a similar battle to paint the Republicans as untrustworthy social engineers intent on removing the highly valued Medicare system.

Meanwhile, in Germany Sigmar Gabriel has sought to give the SPD a public “airing out” in order to inject some much needed youthful energy into a party whose average age is almost 60. Due to the intransigence of some party members this move has received bad publicity, yet the wider point is an important one: many social democratic parties are in dire organisational straits and reforms are badly needed.

Finally, in Australia Prime Minister Julia Gillard is finding the glare of publicity much more taxing than her US counterpart, as she finds herself under siege from big business and conservative media over carbon pricing.

Good, bad, or no publicity, the alarming fact remains that the recent Portuguese elections have left only 4 social democratic heads of government among the EU-27. These are challenging times.

View the latest opinion polls from 18 countries here »

Policy Network Political Observers

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

US  United States - Good news for the Democrats - but there is trouble ahead

Michael Lind"The prospect that Rick Perry could succeed George W. Bush first in the Texas governor’s mansion and then in the White House, and might face the kind of united Republican Congress that Bush enjoyed for most of his term, brings to mind Marx’s observation that history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy and the second time as farce." BY MICHAEL LIND

The UK   UK - Cameron's Conservative rebranding is at risk

John McTernan“One of the best bits of advice that the Clinton staffers gave to Blair’s No 10 was that ‘governing is not campaigning – it has a different rhythm’. That’s true, but New Labour learned the hard way that governing needs campaigning – you have to win and then renew consent constantly. David Cameron is stumbling over this very point at the moment." BY JOHN MCTERNAN

   Germany - The old SPD urgently needs new political energy

Michael Miebach"In Germany, the SPD has lost almost half of its members since 1990 and the average age of party members is almost 60. The party has dramatically lost contact with large sections of society...66% of local party associations have not carried out any ‘open projects’ with citizens in the last few years." BY MICHAEL MIEBACH

   Australia - The paradox of prosperity

David Hetherington"The economy is in its 20th year of consecutive growth, unemployment is below 6%, the budget will be back in surplus by 2012-13 and net government debt will peak at 7% of GDP. Yet most Australians aren’t feeling so positive. Gillard's Labor is under siege from big business and the conservative media, and is foundering in the opinion polls." BY DAVID HETHERINGTON

   Sweden - Juholt gives Swedish politics a Freudian twist

Katrine Kielos"Håkan Juholt's ambition to deal with Reinfeldt's progressive conservatism for what it is might prove successful. That is, if he dares to continue on that road. Falling back into shouting about Reinfeldt being the same old Right intent on destroying the welfare state would be a much more comfortable position. But voters would see through it. So would Freud." BY KATRINE KIELOS

Denmark   Denmark - Social Democrats close in on election poll

Kristian Madsen"Although implemented by the Liberal-Conservative coalition, the Social Democrats support stricter border controls, and even boast that it was originally their idea...As a result, after 3 consecutive elections with immigration policy at the centre, it is clear that economic competence will be the decisive factor this time around." BY KRISTIAN MADSEN

The Netherlands   The Netherlands - Haggling and horse-trading in the chambre de réflexion

Pim Paulusma"The minority coalition, which depends on the support of Geert Wilders, now depends on another questionable alliance for their majority in the senate: the Christian orthodox SGP – a party which strives for theocracy and doesn’t allow women to be active in politics." BY PIM PAULUSMA

Upcoming Policy Network events

1. Governing the eurozone, growing Europe’s economies, 10 June 2011, Warsaw
2. The End of the West? , 14 June 2011, London (with David Marquand, Andrew Gamble & Stephen Wall)
3. Community, identity and solidarity: Fostering trust in diverse political communities, 28 June 2011, London

Most read on the Social Democracy Observatory

1. Cut to the chase: 15 political truths for the centre-left, by Andrés Velasco & Francisco Diaz
2. The Precariat – The new dangerous class, by Guy Standing
3. The new "progressive" conservatism in Europe, by Patrick Diamond
4. Liberal social democracy, fairness and good capitalism, by Will Hutton
5. Is there a liberalism beyond social democracy? by Colin Crouch

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