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Facing up to fear, reclaiming hope

04 December 2015
Facing up to fear, reclaiming hope

The disruptive forces of technological change, globalisation and migration lead many voters to seek comfort in conservative and rightwing populist offers. At the same time, new political forces have emerged in the European left challenging established social democratic parties and claiming the moral high ground. This week, Policy Network publishes a series of essays which explore how progressives can adjust to the new realities of politics in this ‘high-risk, high-opportunity’ era.

Peter Mandelson warns that centre-right parties have benefited by default as a result of a failure among progressives to respond to the “new political and economic circumstances that we have been confronted with since the financial crisis”. In Germany, for instance, Angela Merkel coasted to power by "‘out SPDing’ the SPD". With the mainstream orthodoxy now discredited, he argues that progressives must discover “a new alignment between [themselves] and the mass of voters, and a genuine new, but credible, authenticity”, if they are to restore their electoral base.

Sara Hobolt and Catherine de Vries examine the recent successes of new “challenger parties” across Europe. These parties, they argue, have flourished because they “give a clear voice to … discontent with the political establishment”. Centre-left parties are particularly susceptible to this threat because they are compelled to present themselves as fiscally responsible and economically liberal enough to gain credibility. At the same time they cannot simply “abandon their core constituencies, who often fear globalisation, Europeanisation and immigration”.

Frank Stauss argues that there are understandable and unsurprising anxieties in the context of the digital revolution. Stauss invites us to see “a world in motion” as an opportunity rather than a threat: “we have proven in the past that the change progressives stood and stand for always was and is a change for the better … I am sure that the majority of people would rather follow a path of hope instead of a path of fear”.

Former finance minister of Chile Andrés Velasco also seizes on a need for optimism among progressives in Europe. He explains how Latin American progressives have averted two dangerous assumptions: first, that to be on the left after the financial crisis “means taking a somewhat anti-capitalist stance”; second, “that society is divided between a socially conservative working class and a liberal professional class”. These falsehoods, he argues, have coloured the debate in Europe to the detriment of the left.

This collection of essays contributes to a programme of high-level policy and political seminars held in Berlin, Oxford and Paris earlier this year. Partners have included the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, the SPD, the Fondation Jean-Jaurès, the Center for American Progress and the Foundation of European Progressive Studies (FEPS).

Good PR is not enough. 'New politics' needs new ideas and new policies in order to face up to the fresh challenges we face
Issue entrepreneurship and issue flexibility are enabling new challenger parties to outmanoeuvre the historically dominant mainstream
At a time of widespread anxiety it is the responsibility of progressive leaders to promote a message of hope over fear
The Latin American centre left has been able to craft an alternative approach that avoids the gloom and doom observed in Europe

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