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Home News State of the Left - May 2012

State of the Left

10 May 2012
State of the Left

State of the Left - May 2012

After Francois Hollande’s election victory all attention now turns to the show down in Brussels which will likely determine his governing mandate – a genuine change of course will give him real political choices; a superficial one will leave him with the age-old “curse” of the French left.

But over and above this the overarching question remains: are we witnessing the turning of the political tide from right to left or simply the downfall of incumbent governments?

Advocates in both camps have their arguments. On the one hand, left-of-centre parties have recently won power in France, Denmark and Slovakia. A resurgent Ed Miliband has won handsomely in the UK local elections and new leaders Stefan Löfven in Sweden and Diederik Samsom in the Netherlands have sparked favourable political dynamics. The forthcoming election in North Rhine Westphalia also looks set to favour the German social democrats.

On the other hand, ever since the financial crisis struck nearly all incumbent European governments have fallen in the great backlash of the recession. Only within the last 12 months, 10 European governments have been thrown out.

There is a notable caveat to this: if an incumbent government has survived, they almost exclusively sit on the centre-right. Sweden, Germany, Estonia, Luxembourg and Poland all fall into this bracket. The political adaptability of the new brand of “progressive” conservatism, most commonly associated with Fredrik Reinfeldt, Angela Merkel and David Cameron, has no doubt helped. But these new conservatives also now seem to have lost touch and are increasingly vulnerable.

In times of ideological confusion and widespread political apathy, the best currency of mainstream parties is often competence and reliability. But this is hardly enough to reverse the worrying rise of populism. What is urgently needed is a new project which offers prospects of real and credible political and economic change. Like the right, the left is still searching.

Is this specifically a problem for EU member states? State of the Left contributions on the Latin American model, Barack Obama's battle to swerve anti-incumbent fervour and the pressures on social democrats in the strong economies of Australia and Norway appear to suggest not.

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.

France: A victory of the left to be consolidated

“The show down in Brussels will determine Hollande’s governing mandate – a superficial victory will leave him with the age-old “curse” of the French left. Crucially, failure is not allowed, otherwise the right will return to power, at best in an alliance with, at worst under the rule of Marine Le Pen.” By Laurent Bouvet

Hollande will go via Brussels to rescue France

“Hollande is only too aware of the narrow policy space which politicians now inhibit…he looks likely to pin his hope to the EU, despite the habitual grand rhetoric of French exceptionalism. Imperfect though the EU might be, it still remains Europe's most promising device for creating the policy space in which real political choices can be enacted.” By Olaf Cramme

   Germany: Ms Merkel’s growth pact for Europe

Michael Miebach“Merkel had already started one of her trademark repositioning maneuvers, when she signaled her readiness to accept a European growth agenda alongside an expanded role for the European Investment Bank.” By Michael Miebach

   US: Fear of finding something worse

"Obama looks likely to base his campaign for the Oval Office not on hope but on fear ─ fear of the alternative...Will the outcome be shaped again by anti-incumbent fervour? Will angry Americans, like angry French and Greek voters, seek to throw the bums out and throw the other bums in?” By Michael Lind

UK: It's all coming up roses for Ed Miliband

“Ed Miliband is now in a stronger position than he has ever been while David Cameron is fast losing his air of prime ministerial competence. Labour’s next strategic move on the politics of austerity will be telling - there are now many voices offering very different advice.” By Hopi Sen

  Sweden: Playing it safe

“New Social Democrat leader Stefan Löfven has steadied the ship and reassured older voters as Sweden's “progressive conservatism” project has stalled .  He now needs to stem the flow of younger voters turning their backs on the party" By Katrine Kielos

   Netherlands: Gambling in the Hague

“The new Dutch Labour leader Diederik Samsom is walking the fine line between anti-austerity rhetoric and credible opposition”.. In his dream win scenario the EU relaxes its budget criteria and the austerity budget deal between the five government and opposition parties collapses.."

  Norway’s new conservatives

“ 'Human beings, not billions' is  the favourite slogan of the Conservative party...Following its sister-party in Sweden, the Norwegian Høyre party is portraying itself as a new Labour party….It is designed to change voter’s impression of Høyre as a “cold” party for rich people.” By Sten Inge Jørgensenis

  Australia: The best of times; the worst of times

“Despite delivering a budget surplus in advance of any rich-world economy, Labour are suffering at the hands of an angry, populist opposition… The reaction to the Budget will be critical - it may well be Ms Gillard's last, best chance to turn the tide." By David Hetherington  

  The sick man of Italian party politics

“The centre-left Partito Democratico is leading in the polls but it is torn between Mario Monti’s liberal reforms and the traditional values of the Left...Despite ranking first, the PD remains the sick man of Italian party politics.” By Marco Giuli

  Political polarisation in Latin America

“In Europe, facing challenges from extremes in France, Greece, and elsewhere, social democracy must recommit and work towards a healthier democracy. In this, Latin America has some lessons to share, and still, many things to learn as well.” By Francisco Javier Diaz & Robert L. 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.

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