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Home News State of the Left - Jan 2012

State of the Left

31 January 2012
State of the Left

State of the Left - January 2012

Something is happening on the political left. Having spent much of 2011 adrift in the shadows of missed opportunities, social democrats are back with a new self-assurance. Gone is the fear to take on vested interest and market domination. Instead, confidence has returned in the ability of centre-left politics to change society through the power of collective action.

Barack Obama has used his State of the Union speech to target the rich and corporations with too much power; French presidential front runner François Hollande has passionately taken aim at the world of finance; and UK Labour leader Ed Miliband can claim success in shifting national political debate onto the terrain of “responsible capitalism.”

A lasting paradigm shift beyond the economic orthodoxy of the past thirty years is as yet far from evident. But positive signs are emerging. For instance, public opinion in the US, once the great bastion of unbridled competition and admiration for wealth, appears to have shifted to widespread resentment of inequalities of income and wealth. This is echoed across Europe where austerity, unemployment and low growth are taking a heavy toll on living standards.

The inability of centre-right governments to deliver adds to the sense that social democrats have a new opportunity to be heard. In particular, the ongoing sovereign debt crisis in the eurozone has opened up a new space for the centre-left to advocate a different, more credible and effective way out of the current mess. But this call for “responsible opposition”, especially in countries such as the Netherlands, the UK, Germany, France and Italy, speaks to the tightrope that all political parties must now walk: balancing long-term credibility with popular politics in straightened economic times.

The Swedish social democrats have begun the year by appointing a new leader for this tricky balancing act. 2012 will reveal whether this new found buoyancy is indeed a sign of a great awakening on the centre-left.

View the latest opinion polls, voter intentions and social democratic manifestos from across Europe here >>

Policy Network political observers

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

United States - The circular firing squad lines up for Barack Obama

Michael Lind"The Occupy movement has shriveled, but not before turning the national conversation from deficits and austerity to inequality of income and wealth. It remains to be seen whether Obama can successfully exploit the angry populist mood that is reshaping American politics." BY MICHAEL LIND

The UK   UK - Where will Ed Miliband’s agenda setting land the Labour party?

"Labour isn’t lacking ideas…Yet without policies or commitments that convince voters we can make any of these grand aims happen, Labour will once again find itself setting the political agenda, but getting little of the electoral credit." BY HOPI SEN

   France - The dangers of a socialist dream

"The Socialists appear better placed than at any other time under the Fifth Republic…Hollande may succeed in a volatile electoral environment; but victory could well be a sobering ordeal" BY GILLES IVALDI & JOCELYN EVANS

   Germany - Taking on Teflon-Merkel

Michael Miebach"Merkel is the anti-Thatcher; the lady is always for turning. The chancellor is extremely flexible with regard to her political positions, and is able to use this to undercut opposition stances and steal thunder from progressive policies." BY MICHAEL MIEBACH

The Netherlands  The Netherlands - The first political backlash of the Eurocrisis

RENÉ CUPERUS"For the first time ever in political history, it is the Socialist Party who emerges on top of the pile. This so-called left-wing populist flank party is trumping both the conservative liberal VVD of prime minister Mark Rutte and the anti-Islam Freedoms party of Geert Wilders." BY RENÉ CUPERUS

  Italy - The centre-left after technocracy

"Tabling a vote of no confidence in Monti is out of question, for the time being. However, Monti's political agenda, with its clear drive on cutting spending, pension reform and market liberalisation, poses many tough questions for the future of centre-left politics in Italy." BY ANDREA ROMANO

   Sweden - Step forward Stefan Löfven

Katrine Kielos"After Håkan Juholt's resignation, Stefan Löfven was elected new leader with the whole party sighing with relief...As an important reporter concluded, Löfven is more respected among business leaders than both prime minister Reinfeldt and his finance minister Anders Borg." BY KATRINE KIELOS

Denmark   Denmark - Singing to the tune of the Conservative European choir

"Thorning-Schmidt had an opportunity to become a strong if lonely progressive voice in the circle of heads of governments for a different approach to the crisis...teaming up with Francois Hollande and the likes to create a second wave of centre-left values shaping Europe." BY KRISTIAN MADSEN

   Venezuela - The populist left

"Almost 15 years after Chavez first came to power, it is still difficult to foresee a realistic counterweight to Chavismo in Venezuela, and it is even harder to identify a real social democratic alternative." BY FRANCISCO JAVIER DÍAZ & ROBERT FUNK

State of the Left is Policy Network's monthly insight bulletin reporting from across the world of social democratic politics. Browse the State of the Left archive here.

Image: Barack Obama 2012

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