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State of the Left

13 September 2012
State of the Left

The return of the political centre

The Netherlands has a reputation as Europe’s ‘political laboratory’ with the country's open electoral system lending itself to volatile swings in emotion and support.

Its standing in this regard is alive and kicking. Populist actors may have taken past headlines but yesterday’s election marked the dramatic return of the pro-European centre ground. Centre-right Prime Minister Mark Rutte bucked the anti-incumbency trend returning his party in poll position while Diederik Samsom confounded all expectations to take the social democrats home in a very close second place.

What does the political laboratory test tell us? Voters fed-up with uncertainty and the eurozone crisis have given mainstream parties a last chance to deliver stability and economic security. Taken together with Mario Draghi’s bold action and the decision of Germany’s constitutional court, Europe’s political class now have some much needed space to deliver and take the reins in the ongoing crisis. Failure could be devastating – with populist parties waiting in the wings.

It tells us that the fight between centre-left and centre-right is clearly on again – between two different visions of how to pull countries out of the crisis. This defined the election in the final week and it increasingly appears true across much of Europe. Likewise, the American electorate is faced with sharply discrepant views on the role of government and it will have to decide. Big and fundamental questions are back on the agenda.

The return of competing ideologies presents danger and opportunity: danger that the left becomes complacent with old arguments and past achievements; opportunity to define a new model of political economy which is fair, efficient, in line with the fiscal reality of little money to spend and anchored in a positive vision of European integration.
As the State of the Left observations this month show, centre-left parties are all walking this line with varying degrees of success and balance. The Dutch laboratory is a good guide.

   Netherlands:  The magical return of the political centre

“The political centre is back’, ‘Again the purple coalition of red and blue’, ‘Voters want cooperation. Not polarisation’: these are some of the headlines of Dutch newspapers the morning after the spectacular results in the Dutch elections of September 12th."
By René Cuperus
   Germany: Three faces of defeat?

"A pro-ESM 'grand coalition' looks increasingly likely as the SPD continues to fret over the best bet for party leader... what appears like a decision between a pack of alpha dogs might turn out as an insuperable handicap on the way to the election."
By Marcel Lewandowsky

    US: A referendum on individuals, not policies

"Following the presidential nominating conventions of the two national parties, the Democrats have reason to be cautiously optimistic about the re-election of President Barack Obama. But if Obama is re-elected, he is likely to face a divided Congress or one entirely controlled by the Republican party."
By Michael Lind

   UK: Waiting for growth

"The reaction to Labour's embrace of  “pre-distribution” was mild amusement, bordering on contempt by the media classes, and this, itself, seems important.The first problem with “pre-distribution” as a concept in politics is that it falls foul of the British media's rampant fear of long words. "
By Hopi Sen

   Italy: Leading the left: the race for the Partito Democratico
"The contest between Pierluigi Bersani and Matteo Renzi promises to be an authentic and intense race. Who will win? It is hard to say. But one thing is certain: for the first time in more than ten years, Italian progressives are about to be engaged in a genuine leadership contest."
By Andrea Romano

    Sweden: Falling in love with monsters
"Reinfeldt has consistently tried to sell his policies using social democratic rhetoric. He has copied social democratic slogans and in 2010 he even posed as iconic leader Per Albin Hansson on some of the election posters. Sweden has become used to its centre-right dressing up like social democrats."
By Katrine Kielos

   Denmark: Budget in black, polls in the red

"Prime Minister Thorning-Schmidt has been unable to convince the electorate that 'In the Black'- style fiscal policies are necessary, and this has left her political capital in the red...She has put herself firmly in the German camp in the great European debate on post-crisis policies."
By Kristian Madsen

    France: Taking the helm in the economic storm
"The French electorate demands more than ‘A Normal President’ in the face of anaemic economic growth and high unemployment... In his latest TV appearance, Hollande has showed determination to take the helm more firmly but in doing so he has also put himself in the firing line."
By Jocelyn Evans & Gilles Ivaldi

   Australia: A change in the economic climate

"Labor's spirits have been buoyed by recent successes, but the sense of economic unease will not help the government’s fortunes.. Recent announcements sent a stark message to Australians that we can no longer rely on mining alone to sustain national prosperity."
By David Hetherington

   Finland: Are the Finns showing their ‘True’ colours?
"Narrow national interests led Finland to join the EU. Now those same interests are shaping its domestic political response to the Euro crisis... The True Finns also contain a strong element of old SMP-style politicians, who present themselves as the “voice of the 'normal' and forgotten people.”
By Esa Suominen

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