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State of the Left - May 2013

02 May 2013
State of the Left - May 2013

May Day Alert for the Left

The 1st of May celebrations of International Labour Day passed yesterday with sporadic protests and displays of public anger. The traditional Left mantra of full employment stands in stark contrast to an all-time high EU-wide unemployment rate of 10.9% – or a shocking 24% for young people.

At the same time, the debate about the choking effects of austerity is now led by the IMF and leading business figures. Public opinion is shifting further against the current course. High profile academic research has been tainted and senior figures like EU Commission chief José Manuel Barroso have broken cover.

Yet scepticism towards the European Left is growing at a menacing rate. Amidst extremely bleak approval ratings, only 11% of the French electorate have a positive view of François Hollande’s policies for growth.  The Danish social democrats are withering away on 16%, their lowest score of the century. The Dutch Labour Party has already dropped almost 9% since joining a Coalition Government. Likewise, the Irish Labour party polled less than 5% in a recent by-election as the country enters its sixth year of austerity.

Things don't look much better in opposition: ahead of the September German election, the social democrats (SPD) have recently polled 23%, the same dismal figure it scored in 2009. In Spain, the Socialist PSOE are hanging on to a lowly 23%, despite the unpopularity of the battered Rajoy government. The lead of the UK Labour Party has also started to fall.

And there is more misery. Voters are starting to return discredited centre-right parties from the dead: Iceland has recently voted back in the party who presided over the country’s economic meltdown in 2008; in Ireland, the disgraced Fianna Fáil party, who were almost wiped out at the last election, are now topping the polls; and, Silvio Berlusconi, who perhaps best fits the undead metaphor, has his prints all over the new Italian government. The final cruel twist of fate is that Nicolas Sarkozy, despite being mired in corruption scandals, is polling out in front at 34% in French presidential surveys (Hollande is on 19% behind Le Pen on 23%).

New hope is pinned on the Italian centre-left Prime Minister Enrico Letta. In heading a grand coalition he now has a chance to prove that his party can lead a reforming government to rescue Italy. The circumstance of his rise to power alone sums-up the hole the centre-left is in. There is a desperate need for a dose of realism.

Policy Network political observers:

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

Ireland: Ireland after six years of austerity
"The watchman of the “Celtic Tiger” has returned from the political undead as the  coalition cling together in faint hope that an economic miracle is around the corner...Labour has fared badly acting as a kind of mud-guard for its larger political partner"
By Theresa Reidy

Netherlands:  Triple A country blues
"Public consensus is shifting decisively against fiscal contraction in the Netherlands, contrary to its caricature as an austerity flag-waver in the North-South divide...Nearly all economists stress the disastrous results of budget cuts and a tsunami of half-hearted reform plans."
By René Cuperus

France: François Hollande: the silent reformer or lost in reform?
"Despite the doom and gloom prevalent in section of the European press, the record of the PS-run government is far from being negligible after one year... They now need to take on vested interests in French society and their critics within the Parti Socialiste."
By Renaud Thillaye

UK: Caught Between Populism and a Hard Place
"Labour has to find its space between the fantasy of populism and the vacuousness of indecision...If the populism of the right hearkens to echoes of Poujade and Thatcher, the populism of the left hungers for an odd mix of Chavez and Keynes."
By Hopi Sen

Germany: Restarting Red-Green relations

"The best prospects of an SPD-Green Party coalition lie in resetting a flawed campaign strategy and focusing on maximising voter potential…  Relations have been too-often characterised by enviousness and competition over voters in the left camp."
By Michael Miebach

Sweden: Striking back against “The Borg”

"The social democrats are slowly unnerving the powerful finance minister Anders Borg…The classic line from the TV series: “We are the Borg, you will be assimilated, resistance is futile” also happens to be the best description of Swedish politics in the last couple of year."
By Katrine Kielos

US: Cutting middle-class entitlements
"While most Americans want to increase Social Security and Medicare benefits, by means of higher taxes if necessary, President Obama sided with the “Very Serious People” in calling for cuts in spending on the elderly and increased spending on infrastructure."
By Michael Lind

Spain: Rescuing the European project
"The progressive centre-left has to work on a New Deal for Europe recognising the stress on democracy and social stability in countries like Spain...Europe needs to step forward in policies or projects like the banking union and the fiscal union."
By Juan Moscoso del Prado

Australia: Falling short in election season
"Despite a long economic boom, Australia finds itself with a structural hole in its budget for crucial elements of social investment...Corporate tax receipts have fallen from the peak years of the mining boom, and a poorly designed tax on mining super-profits have hit home."
By David Hetherington

Norway:  The centre-left coalition is cracking-up
Another bastion of social democratic governance in Europe is at risk of falling to a rebranded centre-right party in the September general elections… A substantial proportion of swing voters are turned-off by Labour’s coalition partners.
By Sten Inge Jørgensen

Portugal: The austerity comeback
"Having collapsed in 2009, the Socialist party might soon return to power, adding an ironic twist to the history of the crisis in the euro periphery...Whereas social protest against austerity and troika lenders has been escalating, the party system remains largely unchanged."
By Hugo Coelho

Italy: Enrico Letta’s Grand Coalition
"It remains to be seen whether the grace period granted to Enrico Letta’s government can be used to implement change and innovation...There is a temporary truce to party warfare, but this truce is purely political"
By Andrea Romano

Italy: The Democratic Party after Bersani
"Pier Luigi Bersani abandoned a ship that was deaf to his commands.... The Italian Democratic Party remains in stormy waters after the the complete delegitimisation of its leaders."
By Michelle Prospero

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