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State of the Left: Great Transformations

17 September 2015

Great transformations
The election of the rank outsider Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the UK Labour party has sparked both hope and fear across the European left.

The veteran MP captured the imagination of the British left, winning more than 59 per cent of the vote. Challenger parties from Podemos and Syriza to Sinn Fein have rushed to celebrate the new momentum injected into their anti-austerity brand of politics (Ireland, Spain and Greece all have elections that are approaching – the latter taking place this weekend).
Meanwhile, centre-left parties in power in France, Germany, the Netherlands and beyond worry that their left wings will be emboldened by the radical left shift that has been possible even in pragmatic, market-friendly Britain. It is ironic that while France is experiencing a ‘Blairite’ moment with the tough reforms of its prime minister, Manuel Valls, UK Labour is winding back the clock to radical socialism. It is perhaps telling, however, that in Greece and Spain – the first to witness an apparent far-left renaissance – it seems the stars of Syriza and Podemos may have already begun to fade.
Corbyn has exposed the depth of the failure of Labour’s moderate wing to update their politics in line with the huge spike in inequalities across society as well as to put forward a defence – and new vision – of the market economy as the best means to achieve social justice and economic efficiency. He has also uncovered the huge levels of support for doing politics differently, as championed in Policy Network's The Populist Signal: Why Politics and Democracy Needs to Change. But, as our new pamphlet and polling report Can Labour Win? shows,  Labour is in danger of meandering deep in to electoral wilderness – a view supported by this edition’s lead comment piece from UK contributor Hopi Sen.
In the bigger picture Corbyn is but another symbol of the struggle to deal with and make sense of the great transformations that are convulsing through open societies in Europe. Migration, technological change, global competition, low growth, inequality, terrorism, an ageing population and climate change. The migrant crisis is changing Europe as we know it and as our observers from Sweden and Germany conclude, welcoming refugees requires social democratic answers more than ever. The danger is that if ill-managed, reactionary political forces and the ugly sides of nationalism will prosper at the expense of the extraordinary achievements of the European project (see Hungary).
Labour and other centre-left parties must situate themselves in the vanguard of some of these great transformations, providing security and a bridge to the future in our 'high risk, high opportunity societies' – not fighting the battles of years gone by.

The Corbyn fantasy: doomed from the start
Jeremy Corbyn has embraced fantasy because he knows the realistic, expensive version of his radicalism would not appeal or prosper

In the 20th century, social democracy stayed powerful only because it became a force for government.
Migrant flows make social democracy as relevant as ever
If it combines the principles of optimism and realism, the SPD is well-placed to manage the biggest challenge to the country since reunification
The summer Sweden became obsessed with immigration
Stefan Löfven must exercise leadership on the refugee crisis – which will define not only his legacy, but his chances in the next election
Hungarian political discourse has taken a dark turn as the refugee crisis has been enveloped with fear of a nation losing its identity
This edition of State of the Left features updates and analysis from Canada, Denmark,France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and the United Kingdom.

The left’s failings in France are symptomatic of a wider crisis facing social democracy which can only be addressed by confronting the challenges of the 21st century

Podemos: can they really?
Support for the radical left party is waning, but Podemos may still carry influence if this year’s elections produce a fragmented parliament

Greece's election cliffhanger
Even if Alexis Tsipras scrapes a victory this weekend, more parliamentary troubles may yet lie in store for Syriza

Frederiksen’s balancing act
The Danish Social Democrats’ new leader must tread a fine line between displaying economic responsibility and offering a programme for renewal that will enthuse the party’s grassroots

Economic recovery strengthens Renzi’s reformist zeal
The Italian prime minister wants to use the momentum of better economic growth and unemployment figures to win votes on the left and right, with symbolic moves on civil partnerships and property taxes

Canada's three-way race to the finish
2011 marked a historic moment in Canadian politics when the centre-left New Democratic party became the official opposition for the first time ever. Perhaps another historic moment looms for the Canadian centre left in a few weeks’ time

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