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State of the Left: Fifty shades of beige

11 March 2016





Fifty shades of beige
This week’s State of the Left brings a stark warning of the perils of political blandness and a reminder that, even when searching for coalition partners, centre-left parties must craft their own distinctive offer with broad-based electoral appeal.

Our New Zealand contributor, Josie Pagani, highlights a damning milestone in the history of New Zealand Labour: a decade since the once dominant party was last ahead of the conservative Nationals in any published poll.
 
She considers the problem to be self-inflicted – the result of the party turning in on itself and prioritising a forced façade of unity on the left at the expense of fresh thinking. Any contest of ideas has become heresy – the resulting lack of intellectual renewal has led to a bland political offer that repeatedly fails to resonate with voters:
 
“Behind the placards the public sees cynical, risk-averse and calculating individuals placating activists. Fifty shades of beige with a megaphone.”
 
By resorting to gesture politics and behaving like a different protest group each week the party appears to have given up on any effort to win outright.
 
“Although coalitions are normal in New Zealand's German-style proportional representation system, the strategy of trying to stitch together a winning majority from a base vote of around 30 per cent has failed three elections in a row.”
 
The lesson from New Zealand – that failure to build broad-based appeal leads to perpetual failure at the ballot box – is one centre-left parties would do well to heed the world over. Refusal to do so is a masochism strategy worthy of Fifty Shades of Grey.
 
In France, the recent government reshuffle has been seen as an effort by the Socialist party to build bridges with possible coalition partners on its flanks, with the entrance of Green leader Emmanuelle Cosse and increased representation for the radical left. Prime Minister Manuel Valls has been forced to oppose the Socialists’ official stance in support of a presidential primary, fearing this serves only to humour the far left.
 
In last month’s general election in Ireland there appeared to be no rejection of the centre left in policy terms and yet the Labour party racked up devastating losses. Rather than boldly asserting itself the party appeared too closely tied to its former coalition partner Fine Gael.
 
Meanwhile, in Spain, the negotiations to form a new government are still ongoing, with the Socialists trapped between centrists Ciudadanos and Podemos on their left.
 
There is greater hope from Canada, where Justin Trudeau’s Liberals pursued a courageous strategy to win outright in last year’s elections, despite the strength of natural allies the NDP. Now in government, their courage is paying off, with the party able to pursue a bold agenda to build a more open, progressive and plural society.



UNITED STATES
The American left ignores Trump’s supporters at its peril
To hold the White House, the left must urgently re-evaluate its offer to the white working classes
BY CLAIRE O'CONNOR

The message from New Zealand Labour is often ‘your life is miserable, our country is a dreadful place and getting worse, the world is scary, don’t let it in, and by the way you’re fat – vote for us!’
JOSIE PAGANI                  READ MORE >>
GERMANY
Will Gabriel’s ‘solidarity package’ backfire?
As Germans head to the polls in regional elections, the SPD must not neglect to appeal to the middle classes
BY MICHAEL MIEBACH
SPAIN
Much ado about something
Spain’s agonising wait for a new government presents an opportunity for the left to reflect on deeper tensions
BY LUIS FERNANDO MEDINA SIERRA 
POLAND
Illiberal democracy grips Poland
The future of Poland’s opposition parties will be shaped by their respective stances on opposing the government’s increasingly authoritarian reforms
BY JĘDRZEJ WŁODARCZYK
This edition of State of the Left features updates and analysis from Canada, ​FinlandFrance, Germany, ​Ireland, ​ItalyNew Zealand, Poland,​ Spain, Sweden, and the United States 



NEW ZEALAND
Fifty shades of beige – with a megaphone
The New Zealand Labour party’s prioritisation of gesture politics over intellectual renewal has had catastrophic electoral consequences
BY JOSIE PAGANI


IRELAND
Examining the aftermath
The Irish Labour party racked up devastating losses in last month’s national poll, but repeat elections could be just around the corner
BY EOIN O'MALLEY


CANADA
Canada's soft power is back
“Real change” was Justin Trudeau’s campaign slogan last year. While these are still early days, the change – in both style and substance – has already been palpable
BY CLAUDIA CHWALISZ


ITALY
Renzi bets against Brexit
The Italian prime minister hopes a vote for Britain to remain part of the EU will enable his country to play a leading role in a wider reform process
BY FRANCESCO ROCCHETTI


FRANCE
Walking a fine line: Hollande and the French left
France's incumbent president faces an ever more reduced political space at the centre ground of French politics
BY JOCELYN EVANS AND GILLES IVALDI                      


FINLAND
A conservative turn for Finnish science and innovation
Finnish progressives should promote the idea that long-term science and innovation funding are key investments for the future
BY ANTTI ALAJA        


SWEDEN
An opportunity Löfven can’t afford to miss
The embattled Swedish Social Democrats must seize the chance to capitalise on the opposition’s stance on low-wage jobs
BY AGNETA BERGE

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