The ‘Race to the Top’
A Recovery Narrative Takes Shape
Over the past 5 years European centre-left parties have paid a heavy price for sitting on their laurels and assuming that market failure in the light of the global financial crisis would automatically reward them handsomely at the ballot box.
After a long period of narrow opposition to austerity and the spectre of neoliberalism (terms that failed to convince or resonate with many voters), a sharper critique of where the market economy is dysfunctional is now emerging.
Ed Miliband in the UK is starting to put his developing policy agenda in the context of a ‘race to the bottom’ or a ‘race to the top’. Lodewijck Asscher in the Netherlands has set-out a fundamental choice between ‘decent work’ and ‘disposable work’. Helle-Thorning Schmidt in Denmark has pledged to fight against ‘social dumping’ and the circumventing of labour standards. Stefan Löfven in Sweden vows to take the high road to global competitiveness with stronger enterprise and social support, not weaker welfare and tax cuts. There are a few other examples in Europe too.
In each case, the emphasis is on having a more future-facing national conversation on where jobs, competitive advantage and broad-based prosperity will come from. It dovetails with real life concerns over fairness, low wages, job insecurity and youth opportunity. Opponents who fall back on old remedies are left as defenders of an unsatisfactory status quo.
However, reclaiming the supply-side agenda for the left still demands facing up to much tougher (fiscal) choices on a new politics of production, social investment, innovation, public services, as well as restoring the balance between labour market flexibility and security.
What is more, there is a fine line to tread when raising expectations. As is observed from the UK: “British politicians are looking nervously at the travails of centre-left governments elsewhere in Europe. Elected on a platform of growth, jobs and defending the interests of the many, they seem to be struggling to meet the expectations they created by their victories”.
View the latest opinion polls on social democratic parties from around the world.
Our political observers:
Sweden: The spell cast by the Conservatives is breaking
'The centre ground of Swedish politics seems to be shifting. The impacts of far reaching public sector reforms and privatisations are cutting into the modern, welfare state-friendly image of Sweden’s Conservative-led government.'
By Katrine Kielos
UK: Labour - A lot done, a lot still to do?
'Ed Miliband has stepped into the limelight and dominated the political agenda. Shifting from a single retail policy to a wider wholesale message about the shape of the economy is now crucial, not least because it will provide an effective bulwark against an emerging Tory triumphalism.'
By Hopi Sen
Netherlands: Habermas versus Farage
'The 2014 election campaign for the European Parliament sees Euro-realists squeezed between federal radicals and anti-EU-extremists. Habermas and Giddens versus Farage and Le Pen. Our leading politicians are reluctant to join the fight.'
By René Cuperus
Denmark: The political divide over social dumping
'The Social Democrat-led government struck a chord by drawing firm political lines in the fight against social dumping and labour standards. But these lines have now become blurred, as, ahead of local regional and local elections, someone struck a false note.'
By Kristian Weise
US: Who benefits from budgetary hostage-taking?
'The destructive brinkmanship over the debt ceiling looks set to continue as disapproval ratings of the US Congress soar...by the third quarter of 2014 the sequester will have reduced real US GDP by 1.2 percentage points, corresponding to 1.6 million fewer jobs in the US.'
By Michael Lind
Germany: Recovering from trauma in the heat of Government?
'The SPD faces the unenviable task of digesting its second worst result in its party history, while at the same time negotiating and then potentially governing in a Grand Coalition. It has to challenge the conservatives on the middle ground, and take on the lead role in a fragmented left camp.'
By Michael Miebach
Spain: The decline of two-party politics
'The two mainstream political parties account for 60 per cent of the vote in the polls as economic and political dissatisfaction continues to grow...Despite Rajoy’s ruling party losing more than 25% of its electoral support, the PSOE have not benefited at all from this potential electoral volatility.'
By Juan Rodríguez Teruel
France: The Parti Socialiste and the 2014 municipal elections
'If François Hollande’s signature policy initiatives do not come into fruition, March 2014 could mark the beginning of an electoral blight for the Socialists stretching to 2017 – just as the 2008 municipals did for Nicolas Sarkozy through to 2012.'
By Jocelyn Evans & Gilles Ivaldi
Italy: The rise of Renzi - What will happen after the PD primaries?
'The Partito Democratico congress that will elect a new party secretary has entered its final stage... Having built his fortune on the back of his image as an anti-establishment candidate, Matteo Renzi is increasingly tied to the PD establishment, and it is not easy for him to maintain this equilibrium.'
By Mattia Guidi
Greece: The ‘58 Movement’ to save the Greek centre-left
'Greece’s centre-left parties are contemplating regrouping to form a new “third pole” that might challenge the existing polarisation between the Right and the radical Left... A '58 Movement' political manifesto has emerged.'
By Zinovia Lialiouti
Finland: Red-Green politics under strain in Finland
'In October the mother icon of the Finnish Greens Heidi Hautala resigned from the government... The episode highlights how obstacles to political coalitions between social democrats and greens are both philosophical and practical in scope. Can they be overcome?'
By Mikko Majander
Portugal: Who needs a party anyway?
'For the first time, a non-partisan was elected mayor of Porto, the second-largest city in Portugal...To sail through these times of economic hardship and resist populism, the Portuguese Socialist Party needs to learn lessons from the rising tide of independents.'
By Hugo Coelho
Australia: Closing the chapter on personality politics
'Since its catastrophic election loss the Australian Labor Party rebuilding effort has already begun, with a more democratic leadership contest leading to membership exceeding 50,000 for the first time in years... The party now as a new leader as it opens a new chapter.'
By David Hetherington
EU: The PES announces candidate for Commission President
'The Party of European Socialists (PES) has selected a candidate for European Commission President. That's good news. However, the entire process falls short of the “democratic and transparent process” that was promised.'
By Jon Worth