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State of the Left – Kaleidoscope politics

23 March 2015
State of the Left – Kaleidoscope politics

Britain’s election is only eight weeks away and, if things stay as they are, the country will soon have a politics of the kaleidoscope, with weakened leaders attempting to construct some sort of order from a panoply of colours and characters. As our UK commentator Hopi Sen observes, after decades of sneering at European counterparts, British politics should brace itself for a period of protracted instability.

As our State of the Left bulletin this month shows, there are few alternatives to messy coalition politics and compromise as the politics of debt continue to dominate. In France and Italy, where the left govern, Manuel Valls and Matteo Renzi push on with their reform programmes despite increasing vocal opposition from their party’s restive leftwingers – the French Socialists showed poorly in yesterday’s regional elections heightening the pressure on the government, while the Italian prime minister tries to balance Silvio Berlusconi with the hard left of his own party ahead of important regional polls.

From Germany, Michael Miebach focuses on why the SPD remain stuck on 25 per cent and unable to dent Chancellor Merkel’s popularity despite a solid record of achievement in coalition government– for instance, the introduction of a minimum wage and a drive to reduce inequality in boardrooms. He writes that there is little room for manoeuvre as the party – and the public – support Germany’s constitutional debt brake, which restricts promises on large-scale investment. On the other hand, as Katrine Marçal reports from Sweden, the Social Democrats, who have a reputation for iron fiscal discipline, have removed the country’s budget surplus target and thus broken a two-decade-long consensus about the nation’s fiscal framework to allow future-facing investment.

The politics of debt and deficits reverberate around GreeceIreland and Spain, where our observers assess the chances of a Syriza-Sinn Féin-Podemos radical left arc wielding power. And, with all the talk about ‘Pasokification’ or ‘PSOEfication’, we feature contributions from Jan Cornille and Tim Bale, who give a north-west European perspective on the threat of left populism, arguing that the challenge to social democrats comes more from democratic nationalist parties, optimistic green-liberals and right wing populists targeting traditional supporters.

Ruy Teixera and John Halpin also report on Hillary Clinton’s likely campaign in the US, with the observation that the populist and green left should feel confident that its ideas and strategies are gaining strength given trends within the party and across the American political landscape. They write that, “both core progressive constituencies (young people, people of colour, unmarried women, white professionals) and important target voters (the white working class) hold remarkably populist views on inequality, corporate power and government efforts to bolster jobs and wages and are increasingly more moderate-to-liberal on social issues.”

All in all, the UK election will be another key barometer of how post-crash politics has shifted the centre-ground. As Hopi Sen concludes, with the polls neck and neck, one certainty seems to be that UK politicians will soon need advice from their continental colleagues on how to deliver stability in variety.

This month's State of the Left features critical analysis from Austria, Belgium, FranceGermany, GreeceIreland, Italy, Mexico, the NetherlandsSpain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States

This month's State of the Left updates:

   The SPÖ’s tax agenda fails to deliver

Austria’s social democrats hoped to boost Werner Faymann’s chancellorship with a bold plan to cut payroll taxes while hiking taxes on capital. Thanks to resistance from their centre-right grand coalition partner, the plan to tax the rich backfired

Philip Rathgeb

   Where does the real threat lie?

Forget Syriza: the real threat to social democrats in northern Europe comes from rightwing populism and green optimism

Jan Cornillie


   Hollande faces a strategic dilemma after expected poll rout

In the wake of this month’s local elections, the French president is likely to extend a hand to Socialist leftwingers in order to keep his party united. But this will come at a price to his reformist strategy

Gérard Grunberg

   Targeting Germany’s ‘middle generation’

Struggling in the polls, the social democrats still need to learn the lessons of their defeat in 2013. A new focus on those the party failed to persuade last time may help them to do so

Michael Miebach


   Desperate times, desperate measures

Syriza’s internal turmoil is seriously hampering Greece's relationship with Europe. Stoking nationalist, anti-German feeling to shore up party support is making matters worse

Yannis Palaiologos

   All eyes on Greece

Fine Gael and Labour are failing to reap the rewards of a recovering economy. The fortunes of Syriza may determine their fate

Eoin O'Malley


   Battling on all fronts

As his government celebrates its first anniversary, Matteo Renzi continues to push his constitutional and electoral reforms but faces a test in regional polls

Mattia Guidi 

   Mexico missed the left turn

Mexico continues to grapple with a failed economic model after three decades of disappointing growth rates, low productivity, rising inequality, and virtually no progress in poverty-alleviation. Its left-leaning political parties have not lived up to the challenge

Arturo Franco


   Revolt on the left

Student protests in Amsterdam signal that political discontent in northern Europe may no longer be confined to ageing, angry rightwingers

René Cuperus

   Ciudadanos: A third way or a Trojan horse for the left?

A centrist force is now threatening the already beleaguered PSOE, but it will also weaken Podemos’s role as a potential kingmaker

Jorge Galindo and Antonio Roldan


   Löfven gets down to governing

The opposition parties blink first, giving Sweden’s social democrats the chance to rewrite the nation’s fiscal rules and challenge Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses

Katrine Marçal

   Kaleidoscope politics

An inconclusive election in May is unlikely to be followed by the kind of stability Britain’s coalition government has provided for the past five years

Hopi Sen


   The fight for the Clinton campaign’s heart and soul

Democrats may be preparing to unite around Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid but, thanks to an assertive populist left, there is plenty of ideological jostling to come

John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira

Photo credit: Jeremy Page

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