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State of the Left

06 July 2012
State of the Left

Shooting old horses in cold blood 

If volatility is the quirk of present day markets, it is now the nightmare of today’s politics. Voters cannot punish the bankers. But they punish underperforming governments with ever more fervour. They "shoot old horses in cold blood."

This metaphor used in our Greek election feature speaks to the stark choice which confronts many mainstream political parties across Europe: they must raise their game; or face oblivion.

Greece and Ireland might be somewhat extreme cases in the European context but a comparison of their last two elections says something: PASOK plummeted from 46% to 12%, as one of the most stable party systems in Europe was blown sky high; and Fianna Fail, the once domineering force of Irish political life, dropped from 42% to 17%.

This anger is dividing our societies: the young are pitched against the old; the poor against the rich; the less-educated against the well-educated; the labour market insiders against the outsiders. Greater polarisation looks inevitable, causing even more fragmentation in our political systems, many of which are already ridden with populist and single-issue parties.

The challenges of a coherent strategy for governing which speaks to these tensions is evident. But the political mainstream, and social democrats in particular, also need to raise their game to tap into the political energy of new generations and groups, closing the gap between new social movements and decaying old political parties.

This is doubly important as electoral politics remains the lead avenue for societal change. The last year in the US is instructive: Occupy chose to challenge politics from the outside with its lasting impact still to be defined, whilst the Tea Party mobilised within the system and has already made a radical mark on American society and the Republican party.

Back in Europe all eyes remain on Francois Hollande: he captured the political energy in French society; he now must confront the challenges of government. The left is watching nervously.

Policy Network political observers

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

   Greece: Shooting horses in cold blood

“PASOK failed dramatically to manage the crisis effectively and justly. Under such circumstances, voters severely punish incumbents if they underperform. They "shoot horses in cold blood" and that is what they did. The June vote was a rational vote.” By Gerassimos Moschonas 

   France: The paradoxes of the Hollande Presidency

"It is a sign of the times that one of the most powerful mandates in French political history offers precious little room for maneuver… Hollandism could turn out to be no more than Sarkozyism with a human face or the beginning of a new kind of “conservative progressivism” in Europe." By Eddy Fougier

   Netherlands: Eurocrisis election: a fight across all frontiers

“The september Dutch election battle will take place across two frontiers at the same time: the traditional Left-Right fight; and the new Europe fight within the Left camp....between a pro-EU social democratic party (PvdA) and an anti-(neoliberal) EU social democratic party (SP)." By Rene Cuperus

UK: All's not well in Tory Britain

"Posturing as a new Conservative with a strong moral compass came quite easy to David Cameron in opposition; but in the end you need a plan, not just a sound bite…. In this, Labour can learn from both the travails of the Coalition and the challenges of the European left." By Hopi Sen

   Germany: Problems with an old acquaintance

"With the social democrats flip-flopping between supporting and criticising the government’s European strategy…the Left Party in Germany is edging towards a more populist and aggressive course which could potentially deal the SPD a treble blow " By Michael Miebach

Australia: Governing with the Greens

"The positioning of the Greens is making a divisive mark on Australian politics as the Gillard government’s new carbon tax takes effect… political strategists on both sides believe it will be the issue that settles the fate of Julia Gillard's Government " By David Hetherington

US: Beyond Obamacare

"President Obama has been ticking the boxes of key Democratic constituencies, but his failure to choose between Keynesianism and austerity, as opposed to an incoherent mix of both, will make it harder for him to define and defend his record."
By Michael Lind

   Italy: The tricky nature of Grillo's populism

“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

   Norway: Head against the ceiling

“Meeting the high expectations of Norwegian voters is becoming increasingly difficult for the Labour-led coalition… In sum, the Norwegian “welfare-model” is so expensive that simply maintaining the current level is very testing” By Sten Inge Jørgensen

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