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State of the Left

19 December 2012
State of the Left

Progressive coalitions for a fragmented left

Looking ahead to 2013

The victory of Barack Obama in the US has brought 2012 to a hopeful close. His “emerging Democratic majority” of nonwhite, young and metropolitan voters may well capture the imagination of the European centre-left, but the reality is that it serves more as a warning signal than a template for a new progressive majority.

With sweeping demographic and cultural changes rendering “catch-all” positions increasingly obsolete, winning out right victories appears to be a thing of the distant past. Europe’s mainstream parties must adapt better to new forms of voter engagement in an era that will be increasingly defined by the need for coalition-building.

A worrying signifier comes from France in the form of clear generational shifts in voting patterns. 35% of the youth vote rejected the mainstream centre-left and centre-right parties in this year’s election, with François Hollande scoring his lowest level of support among 18-25 year olds. The bond between young people and traditional forms of politics is becoming increasingly frayed.

Populist and extremist political actors
are continuing to make hay at the expense of mainstream parties. From Beppe Grillo’s success in Italy to the rise of the far right Sweden Democrats, the rigidity of conventional party structures and ways of doing politics is being exposed.

Yet, important moves to counter this are taking shape. Successful leadership primaries have taken place in France and Italy and, ahead of next year’s German election, the SPD is planning an Obama-style door-to-door campaign to counter Angela Merkel’s popularity. Whether this will be enough remains to be seen.

The lesson to take from the “Obama model” might be that, as the electorate becomes increasingly fragmented, parties must be able to make their case directly to individual citizens. With dwindling membership numbers and the decline of trade unions and other traditional civil society groups, political parties cannot do this alone. They have to open-up the space for new societal alliances and popular campaigns.

There is more work to be done on what the party structure of the future should look like.

In this year's last edition of State of the Left, our expert observers look ahead to key political conflict for the centre-left in 2013.

Policy Network political observers:

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

US: Sustaining a new progressive majority
The “emerging Democratic majority” of nonwhite, young and metropolitan voters finally made their mark in 2012 and the long-term implications for US politics are significant.
By Michael Lind
Germany: The Teflon Chancellor only gets stronger
The SPD are likely to run a campaign focused on social inequalities and Obama-style campaigning as Angela Merkel’s popularity continues to soar.
By Michael Miebach

France: Young people and the left: a weakening bond
The weakening of support for the left among young people is part of a long-term generational shift in political identification.
By Anne Muxel

Netherlands:  Squeezed between a German or British Europe
The Netherlands remains divided on the future of European integration between those wanting a ‘German’, federal Europe and those in favour of an enlarged, but looser union.
By René Cuperus

UK: The cold comfort of holding patterns
Labour has found its oppositional rhythm. Tough political leadership is now required to set a governing blueprint which does not rely on redistributing the successes of social market capitalism.
By Hopi Sen

Australia: Time to challenge conventional wisdom on taxation
A commitment to lift the tax-to-GDP ratio would challenge conventional wisdom and give Labor a sorely needed point of differentiation.
By David Hetherington

Sweden: The rise of the Swedish far right
The narrow political distance between the Social Democrats and the Moderates appears to be opening-up new space for the Sweden Democrats.
By Katrine Kielos

Italy: The slow death of traditional party politics in Italy
The success of the Five Star Movement highlights the out-dated form of traditional party structures and ways of doing politics.
By Umberto Marengo

Denmark:  Hoping for growth
Rather than putting forth new fiscal and other policy initiatives to stimulate growth and job creation, the Danish Social Democrats have shifted their focus on education reform to buy time in office.
By Kristian Madsen

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