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State of the Left

27 June 2013
State of the Left

In European politics, Angela Merkel of Germany and Frederik Reinfeldt of Sweden remain the most successful leaders. Both have pinned down and continue to traumatise two of the continent’s most successful social democratic parties. Unlike few others, they have won back-to-back elections in the crisis era.

Recent developments in these two countries are noteworthy. Reinfeldt’s superfluous defence of the Nordic model in the face of riots in Stockholm appear to have dulled mainstream Swedish opinion to the magnitude of their societal implications. Inequality in Sweden has grown faster than any OECD country in the past 15 years and youth unemployment is stubbornly high.

In Germany, where the SPD have scored as low as 22% in a poll ahead of the September elections, Angela Merkel opened her new election manifesto with a number of progressive leaning social promises and enjoys a handsome poll lead of almost 18 points on her nearest rival.

What can explain the resilience of these new Conservative parties beyond clever positioning?  Centre-left parties are tied-up in a double-bind. The first bind is that social democrats struggle to win back under-represented groups at the bottom of society, especially amoung younger generations. These voters either abstain or go to new populist contenders on the left and right. Social democrats are subsequently devoid of constituencies from their former heartlands ─ and so electorally weaker against centre-right opponents.

The second bind relates to redistribution and insecurity. Many voters in the middle income bracket have become increasingly resistant to redistribution in tough economic times. Support for the traditional welfare state remains in place but is tempered by a wariness of wasteful public spending. New conservative politicians see this and promise a leaner version of the social democratic settlement. It works for them. Indeed, it is not surprising that other centre-right parties are following this direction: the leading contender for the September Norwegian election is a rebranded “New” Conservative party.

To turn this around the left should take note of  a new cross-European study of public attitudes by IFOP and the Jean Jaures Foundation, which supports the view that there is significant space for a centre-left revival. As our piece on UK politics observes, “there is a big political argument out there (for fiscal discipline and social justice to go hand-in-hand). Somewhere between vague, windy ambition and cold technocratic discipline lies a political message about vital, hard fought, socially just reforms that can make a difference to people’s lives.” The challenge is to define and shape this new radicalism.


Sweden: Riots and the Reinfeldt syndrome

"Being the poster child for failing market reforms, burning cars and youth unemployment is not something Swedes are used to...Reinfeldt's message that none of this is really happening therefore has its appeal..To admit that something is happening to the Swedish model is to admit the impossibility of his own political project."
By Katrine Kielos

Australia: Living by the sword

"In the annals of fratricide, Australian Labor bows to no one. On Wednesday night, three years and three days after its last bloodletting, Labor was at it again...At his third attempt since 2010, Kevin Rudd defeated Julia Gillard in the Labor party room to retake the office of Prime Minister."
By David Hetherington

UK: Pragmatic choices, big ambitions

"For the last three years, Labour has based their political strategy on opposing the cuts being imposed by Britain’s coalition. Now Labour is making a careful journey to setting out how they themselves can govern in tough times. Combining hope, ambition and discipline is the stated aim, but can Labour offer voters all three?"
By Hopi Sen

France: Always campaigning, never explaining

"French politicians believe and make believe that everything is possible  ̶  but the public have long lost faith in big political promises...disillusionment is high when the public understands that not everything is possible, and that is exactly what has happened since the election."
By Eddy Fougier

Germany: The meltdown of the Troika

"The three figureheads of the SPD are moving in different directions with less than 100 days to go until the election...As it stands, the meltdown of the troika threatens to cause the meltdown of the SPD. Steinbrück, Steinmeier and Gabriel need to wake up to the fact that they will all go down with the sinking ship."
By Michael Miebach

Italy: Enrico Letta's deal

"Enrico Letta is striking deals to keep his government and party together as Berlusconi and Grillo struggle with their respective demons... The implicit agreement seems to be that Renzi will not be too critical towards Letta’s government, and, in return, Letta will not obstacle Renzi’s attempt to be the next prime minister."
By Mattia Guidi

US: Obama is running low on legacy time

"President Barack Obama has struggled against major headwinds at the beginning of his second term.  The administration’s attempts to unroll an ambitious multi-part agenda as elements of Obama’s “legacy” have suffered one defeat or diversion after another."
By Michael Lind

Denmark: Turning tides for Thorning-Schmidt government?

"Polling has been better for the Social Democrats for the last couple of months...There are two policy developments that seem to underpin these turning tides: a solution to a benefit-problem for unemployed people falling out of the unemployment insurance programme and ambitious schools reform."
By Kristian Weise

Canada: Revenge of the Liberal universe? 

"The soaring appeal of young Liberal leader Justin Trudeau suggests that predictions of a post-partisan future are wide of the mark...Despite running a policy-light campaign, his latest polling numbers, in the low 40 percent are the best the Liberals have seen in a generation and would seem to promise a majority government."
By Peter Graefe & Simon J. Kiss

Norway: Uncomfortable bedfellows

"The rightist bloc of parties looks likely to win the Norwegian election. Internal conflicts and the hard-line policies of right-wing populists represent the ruling Labour Party’s last hope...the tactic is to scare the voters with the prospect of the Progress party in government."
By Sten Inge Jørgensen

Greece: Austerity and the public interest

"In pairing-up with an ideologically driven Conservative prime minister, the Greek Socialists need to be wary of making damaging political compromises..The political crisis that was triggered as a result of public broadcasting shut-down created a serious dilemma for the two minor parties - both centre-left leaning - of the coalition government."
By Zinovia Lialiouti

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