The trouble of Europe's left

Reply Sat 13 Sep, 2008 03:24 pm
Across Europe, these days parties of the left are replacing their leaders in a desperate attempt to regain lost ground.

This week's Newsweek has two interesting articled about the European left and the actual situation within the European left parties:

The New Low Lights On The Left
If politics, like the economy, moves in slow but inexorable cycles, then the center-left that has for so long defined European politics seems to be in a deep and protracted recession. No matter what they call themselves"Social Democrats, Socialists or Labour"rarely have they simultaneously appeared so troubled. In Britain, Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown's popularity has hit rock bottom. Germany's Social Democrats are a dwindling party, squeezed between conservatives in the center and populist extremists on the left. In France and Italy, telegenic new-style rightists have managed to reduce the left-wing opposition to tatters. Even Spain's José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, the last unchallenged mainstream-left ruler of a major European power, looks increasingly besieged as the Spanish economic miracle crashes all around him. ... ... ...

The second article, by Sunder Katwala from the Fabian Society, has a more optimistic view:
Why Europe's Left Can Rise Again

Europe's left is in trouble. In the 1990s the third way"the center-left of Tony Blair, Gerhard Schröder and Lionel Jospin"governed almost everywhere. Now, it is out of office or struggling almost everywhere. Britain's Gordon Brown has a mountain to climb in the polls. The German Social Democrats hang on as junior coalition partners. Only the government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, re-elected in Spain, bucks the trend in Western Europe. Indeed, for a generation of social democrats heavily influenced by Bill Clinton's New Democrats in the United States, an era has drawn to a close.

If the many policy lessons they promoted about governance and how to prosper in an era of globalization remain relevant, they are now failing as politics. "We know what we must do to govern, but we do not know how to be elected, having done it," one senior European ex-minister says of the fragmenting electoral base for social democracy.

Now, across Europe, the populists on the right and the left are challenging the shrinking center. Those who need to construct broad governing coalitions struggle to match the emotional appeal to grievances, particularly among white working-class voters. In Germany, Die Linke (The Left) combines the charismatic oppositionist appeal of ex-minister Oskar Lafontaine with remnants of the former East German Communists"and polls at 15 percent by voicing the fears and anger of the working class. Other voters stay at home, especially in Britain. The growing salience of issues of identity and immigration divide the liberal-intellectual and working-class base. ... ... ...

Not only because I'm a member of the Fabian Society, too, I agree with Katwala that if hey listen to their opponents' ideas, or lack of them, the next generation of Social Democrats can be confident to win the battle of ideas.
Just slipping from the left to the center and even more to the right (like it was done here in Germany) that people considered the SPD to be a conservative party with some added liberal ideas - that only strengthens the far left (and right).
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Reply Sat 13 Sep, 2008 03:30 pm
@Walter Hinteler,
"Just slipping from the left to the center and even more to the right (like it was done here in Germany) that people considered the SPD to be a conservative party with some added liberal ideas - that only strengthens the far left (and right). "

I also vegitate/live in Germany Köln.
I was a strong active member of SPD.
Now i belong to the Linke.
We the ex communists and anti corporate controlled compassionate conservatives are very active to expose the hypocracy in the name of Democracy.
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Reply Sat 13 Sep, 2008 03:32 pm
@Walter Hinteler,
It's because they have idiotic policies Walt. The public are at last being to see through the silly sods.
Reply Sat 13 Sep, 2008 04:10 pm
I know that GBS was an active member of Fabian Society.
I love GBS for his critical views and powerfullo usuage of English language.
But his days awere infested with intellectuals whereas we live in consume-oriented compassionate conservative time which is controlled by Corporate criminals.
Reply Sat 13 Sep, 2008 05:04 pm
He was idiotic too but at least he had style.
Reply Sat 13 Sep, 2008 05:27 pm
Not so an idiot like me. i cannot judge your intellectual comment.
Reply Sat 13 Sep, 2008 05:32 pm
Read the Ellmann biography Rama. The guy was a most amusing barmpot.

And don't read it fast just because it is long. Treat it like fine wine.
Reply Sat 13 Sep, 2008 05:39 pm
I will in due course.
Thanks I had bookmarked this thread because of your valuable imputs.
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Reply Mon 22 Sep, 2008 09:19 pm
@Walter Hinteler,
Walter Hinteler wrote:

Not only because I'm a member of the Fabian Society, too, I agree with Katwala that if hey listen to their opponents' ideas, or lack of them, the next generation of Social Democrats can be confident to win the battle of ideas.

Maybe I'm missing something, but I just read his article and did not come away with any sense of what he is proposing, substantively. The next generation of Social Democrats can be confident to win the battle of ideas, ok - with what ideas? I'm not detecting any in his article.

What I saw Katwala say is, the centre-left is in crisis when it comes to tackling politics and elections, check; it is failing to match the emotional appeal of the far left and right to people's fear and anger, check; it is losing its former working class base on the issues of identity and immigration, check. So far so good; much of the problem is diagnosed.

Then what? Well, Katwala adds, at some length, the centre-left deserves a pat on its back because its policies and rhetorics have been adapted by much of the European right, and is now in many ways the European consensus. OK, yay. But apparently that's not helping it much when it comes to the politics of it and those elections. So what now?

We're nearing the end of the article now, and he hasnt even given a hint of what ideas or strategies could help social-democracy out of its crisis. He's got three paragraphs left for that. What's he say?

[W]ithin the left, the centrists are winning the battle of ideas. [..] But the next generation of moderates must prove they are not clones who will become a conservative force by simply rerunning the politics of the last decade. Their slogan "Proud, But Not Satisfied" seeks to combine governing credibility and idealism"that they knew why their parties needed to modernize but can remember, too, what they are for. If the Third Way seemed deliberately opaque, this generation is more confident in articulating the ends of reform: a "fairness" mission to extend life chances and equal opportunities.

I'm sorry, but what does this even mean?

Apparently a move to the centre is good, because god knows those lefty "1968ers .. provided neither new ideas nor new leaders". That is, a move even further to the centre -- when he's just concluded that the centre-left is already suffering from the appeal of the far left to the working class voters it has alienated. Yes, it's a new generation of centrists that will win - no, is winning - the battle of ideas.

OK, with what ideas are they doing that, then, you may ask? Well, they don't want to simply rerun the politics of the last decade. OK, what do they want to do instead? They want to "combine governing credibility and idealism". Combine an awareness of "why their parties needed to modernize" with an awareness of "what they are for." Right. {blinks}

Seriously, how vacuous can you get? But no, I'm getting that wrong - this new generation of centrist social-democrats is actually not "opaque" like the previous one, it is in fact more confident "in articulating the ends of reform." Those being - here it comes: "a "fairness" mission to extend life chances and equal opportunities".

Jebus. And that is more than a bland, meaningless commonplace how? That is different from what the social-democrats have been saying the last decade how? What battle of ideas is that kind of bromide supposed to win?

Let's give him paragraph 2:

And there is much interest in doing politics differently, adapting the lessons of the Barack Obama campaign in the United States and grass-roots movements like MoveOn.org to European conditions. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband talks of fusing social-democratic, liberal and environmental traditions to create new progressive movements. Three million voters took part in an open primary in Italy"a major innovation in center-left politics"to elect Walter Veltroni as leader of the new Italian Democratic Party. Sweden's Mona Sahlin has returned the center-left to a sustained poll lead, while the Reinfeldt government has shifted rightward in office and lost popularity.

OK, finally at least some things that are somewhat concrete. The lessons of "grassroots movements like MoveOn.org" and "the Barack Obama campaign" - both unspecified. (And never mind that politically, there's a chasm between MoveOn and the Obama campaign, who hardly see eye to eye). An open primary to elect one's leader. OK, very worthy, but completely a question of process rather than substance. The reference to Sweden lacks any specific point of either substance or process - just, yay, we're winning there.

That leaves one sentence: "fusing social-democratic, liberal and environmental traditions to create new progressive movements," like Milliband suggested. Well, that's wonderfully broad and vague.

Moreover, isn't that exactly what the Blair/Clinton/Schroeder (and to some extent Jospin) generation of the 90s did or try to do? Break out of the classic social-democratic, unions-oriented 'red family' and create more of a hybrid centre-left, a "New Middle"? Whatever virtues that movement had substantively and strategically, it's obviously not the solution to the centre-left's current electoral doldrums, since said doldrums have sprang forth from an era of doing exactly that.

So, first the author warns against "simply rerunning the politics of the last decade" and praises a new generation for suggesting new ideas - and then, pressed to explain what those new ideas are, comes with a single sentence that basically rehashes the quintessential formula of the 1990s generation.

But hey, at least there's an actual sentence with a hint of what ideas the author has in mind when he sees Social-Democrats winning the battle of ideas. With that, however, we're also already at the last paragraph:

When they listen to their opponents' ideas, or lack of them, the next generation of social democrats are confident they are winning the battle of ideas. They must now figure out how to win the battle of elections, too.

Again - what does this even mean? If he had just said, "by listening to their opponents' ideas, social democrats can win the battle of ideas again", that would at least have been an argument of sorts, though it would still have been royally vague as long as it's not specified which opponents he means (the liberals? the christian-democrats? the populist leftists?). But he shies away from even that much of a position, by adding in the "or lack of them" bit. Now all flanks and exits have been covered: social-democrats can once again win the battle of ideas by using some of their opponents ideas and some ideas their opponents aren't using. Wow, no kidding. And I can feed myself by eating bread and other food that's not bread.

But even that is not the end, no - he asserts that this is not just a question of how the new generation of centrist social-democrats can be winning the battle of ideas, no, they are already winning! After all, didnt he mention how many of the social-democratic ideas of the 90s are now the consensus in Europe?

So there you have it. The centre-left is already right. It already has the winning answers when it comes to substance and policy. And there's a vaunted new generation that's just great and new, even if it's totally unclear what they are specifically adding or changing to the social-democratic menu. They're winning the battle of ideas, anyhow. With ideas that aren't specified beyond the blandest of bromides.

Never mind the movement's inability, which the author diagnosed at the beginning, to connect with and respond to the fear and anger of much of the working and middle class. Those issues of identity and immigration that have divided the centre-left elites from their class base have also just kind of disappeared, without a hint of what the answer or solution to that one can be. No, the social-democrats are just exhorted to be confident that they are already winning the battle of ideas; the only problem is just "to figure out how to win the battle of elections." On which question the author also suggests pretty much zilch in the way of concrete answers, beyond praise for a primary in Italy and a cursory, non-specific reference to "the lessons of Barack Obama's campaign."

No wonder that Europe's post-Blairite centre left is in such a rut. There's just really no 'there' there anymore. Just pious commonplaces and generalities that are so vague nobody could possibly take offense. Tired PR lines. At best, the acknowledgement that globalisation and immigration have driven a wedge between the centre-left parties and their traditional class base, but no hint of an answer - it's not like "fusing liberal and environmental traditions" into social-democratic politics will do a lot to win back those white working class voters, after all. Milliband's article was the same bland mush.

As long as the post-Blairite, post-Neue Mitte centre-left has nothing to offer but this kind of smug vacuities, it will deservedly shed votes to its rivals. Working class voters will keep going to far right parties or populist leftists like the German Linke, the Dutch Socialists or a party like Respect in England. And intellegentsia looking for genuine explorations of new ideas will try out Green or radical and liberal parties. After Blair, Schroeder, Kok etc, the social-democrats have just lost their soul power -- and if this author is right in pinpointing young centrists like Milliband as their rightful successors, it's not going to come back anytime soon.
Walter Hinteler
Reply Mon 22 Sep, 2008 11:29 pm
Your analysis may be right, nimh.

Katwala, like others in the Fabian Society but elsewhere as well (those with a more 'orthodox social democratic background'), have difficulties to arrange with the actual more centrist policies by their leaders - and parties.
(They do better on other fiels - like in the Fabian's latest publication, by Sadiq Khan MP, "Fairness not Favours - How to reconnect with British Muslims".)

As far as I notice, similar happens with conservative ideas and the rightish parties: they move to the center more and more (our state's CDU now even choose Rau as a 'Leitfigur' ...).

And I fully agree: the extreme right and left as well as the Greens take their advantages from it.
Reply Fri 26 Sep, 2008 03:02 am
@Walter Hinteler,
How can you define extreme?
what is your yardstick to measure the extremityß.
. Once again i beg to submit that i wish to be the extreme idiot or innocent than any other extreme.
I can quote GBS's view but i will post in due course..
anyway just curious. In Germany where you live are there any party that evoke your emotions?
I was active in SPD under helmut Kohl 16 years. And now i belong to the Linke.
Oscar was once the Spd chief and left his post and now he leads with other non-extremists.
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Walter Hinteler
Reply Fri 7 Nov, 2008 02:29 am
News from one of Europe's socialist parties which a lot of trouble ....

French Socialists seek a new leader
The French Socialist party last night took the first step in its labyrinthine process to choose a new leader charismatic enough to reinvent the French left and provide a viable opposition to Nicolas Sarkozy.

The Socialists, who have spent much of the past few months stabbing each other in the back, last night voted on six motions to reinvigorate the party put forward on behalf of candidates.

Three motions are expected to emerge as favourites, allowing the party to draw up a shortlist for the leadership vote on November 20, when François Hollande steps down after 11 years in the job. The main candidates are the mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë; the former presidential candidate Ségolène Royal - who is Hollande's former partner; and the mayor of Lille, Martine Aubry. ... ... ...

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