centre-leftTimes are tough for Europe’s centre-left. Social democratic parties across the continent have seen their share of the vote collapse since the 2007-2008 economic crisis. In countries ranging from Greece, to Finland, Poland, Spain, Austria and the Netherlands, the mainstream left has seen its support plummet to historic lows.

In the upcoming French elections, the centre-left Parti Socialiste is trying desperately to avoid electoral wipe-out. Italy’s Partito Democratico is currently lagging behind the populist Movimento 5 Stelle in the polls. In Britain, the Labour Party is struggling in by-elections to hold seats that have been safe for generations.

What’s behind this slump in support for social democracy? Is it because modern centre-left parties have abandoned their traditional socialist values in favour of the “Third Way” of leaders such as Tony Blair and Gerhard Schröder? Or is it because the mainstream left hasn’t found an answer to the disruptive forces of globalisation, immigration, and the loss of traditional working class jobs to automation?

In recent elections in the Netherlands, the Dutch Labour Party suffered a humiliating defeat. Ahead of the vote, we had a comment from Lucas predicting things would go badly. He believes that the Labour Party’s decision to go into coalition with the centre-right VVD hurt them in the eyes of Dutch working class voters. Is he right?

To get a response, we spoke to Ahmed Aboutaleb, the Mayor of Rotterdam and a politician from the Dutch Labour Partry (Note that this interview was recorded just before the Dutch elections).

Looking ahead to the French elections, we also had a comment sent in from Tristan who points out that the French socialists are polling just 10%. Could they be facing an electoral rout of the same scale as in the Netherlands?

To get an answer, we spoke to Philippe Marlière, Professor of French and European Politics at University College London. You can read more of his thinking on the upcoming French elections on his blog (in French) or in The Guardian (in English). What did he predict?

MarliereThe Parti Socialiste (PS) is in disarray, and people are wondering about its immediate future. It might not exist after this election, at least in its current form. Broadly speaking, their are two factions within the PS. One is leaning towards the centrist politics of Emmanuel Macron. It’s the faction that has been in power, running the government. It’s represented by François Hollande, Manuel Valls, and others… They are a kind of French version or adaptation of Blairism and his Third Way, and they get along very well with Macron. They also get along with a number of people on the right economically. However, they are being rejected by the electorate, notably the traditional left-wing electorate. Still, they want to carry on. That’s really their political orientation, and they are in command of the party in government, so institutionally they’re very strong.

The other faction is represented by Benoît Hamon, who won the PS’ primary election. He represents a kind of return to proper social democracy, but a modernised version, not the social democracy of the 1970s… Hamon talks very much about redistribution, social justice, and he has a number of proposals which are more traditionally left-wing. He also wants to break with a number of important reforms made by the Valls government, notably the labour law, which was very controversial.

Why are Europe’s centre-left parties collapsing? Is it because they have abandoned their traditional socialist values? Or is it because they don’t have answers to the challenges of globalisation, immigration, and automation? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions.

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Gustave Deghilage


113 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

    • federico

      like you

    • Ivan Burrows

      Giwrgos Filippatos

      German’s government is right of centre.

      Socialist dogma as turned Sweden and Denmark into no go zones.

    • Giwrgos Filippatos

      Yeah Germany/Denmark /Sweden some of the best economies in the world have no clue about economy. You ignorant dont talk

    • Marko Martinović

      Parties. Not countries. Left is haveng big negative impact on economy

    • Petros Papadimas

      I suspect that talking in such an authoritarian way you must be pretty knowledgeable right?

    • Ivan Čorak

      The nordic countries have oil and smal managable populations, Germany has the benefit of a large ”feudal domain” of the EU to prop up it’s economy.

    • James Block

      Neither do the parties on the right. At least here in the UK, the 2008 stock market crash would have been considerably worse had the Conservative party been in at the time.

    • Chay Carle

      40 years of right wing government in the UK has worked well…………………………….for the rich, the multinationals, the tax evaders

  1. Akis Muto

    And right wing parties have any idea?

    My understanding is that left wing parties have lost their orientation and consumed their powers in useless causes

  2. Ante Radnić

    Because they don’t fit in democratic frames and they are promoting 19. ct. ideas in 21. ct.?

  3. Zsolt Füri

    They are behind modern age…take a look on Germany it is succesful because it is adapting to changes and does not stick to old ideas

  4. Bódis Kata

    Leftists always think that they know better than the population, they want to shape society according to their ideology instead of simply representing the interest of the people — which is what they were supposedly elected for. Most people are fed up with the social engineering, especially when it comes with such negative consequences.
    Think in terms of the Maslow-pyramid. The left strive for their ideals on top of that pyramid and ignore the damage they make to the base of the pyramid.

    • Oliver Hauss

      Oh, really, so “leftists” – a term you use in a way that marks you as a right wing extremist, since the discussion is about centre-left – do not care about housing? They do not care about healthcare? Sorry, but you’re ridiculous.

    • Bódis Kata

      You need to improve your reading comprehension. And clearly, you’ve never heard of such a thing as motivation theory or even sociology.

    • Chay Carle

      An amateur psychologist, not everyone is motivated by the same thing, which I guess in your case is simply greed

    • Bódis Kata

      Have you been struck by the stupid stick, or what?
      Motivation theory is a part of sociology and leadership courses too, even if you’ve never heard of such a thing.

  5. Andrea Brown

    The left has collapsed because the left has been attacking the working class for 2 decades. On top of that they have switched to causes which are not relevent to the working class such as unlimited immigration to reduce wages and living stadards. The left is now run by people who were communist in the unrest across Europe in the late 60’s and early 70’s who are now all neoliberal identity issue nutcases who attack the working class every chance they get. That is why working class are switching to the hard right out of desperation for any scraps from the table.

  6. Petros Papadimas

    My humble opinion is that globalisation doesn’t allow them to apply laws that balance the financial inequalities between the masses and the corporations, because simply, corporations leave the country in case their interests are affected. Struggling to keep balance, they apply right wing policies, betraying their voters who expect so much more from them.

  7. Higaara Nakamura

    Because the middle class is collapsing under the offshoring contemporary politics. Banks have corrupted every single politician in power and are aiming the maximum profit forgetting all the human factor and human quality of life. Societies are being ran on a small term view. Social cooperation is imploding. In the meantime demography is crap with the ageing of European populations and the entering of foreigner populations that do not share the same values as native peoples. Regardless of the logics for people to be aiming to work less hours that has still not happened and we cannot see that coming for true. The poor are getting poorer. There is no cohesion only entropy, overpopulation and fight for scarce resources. War is coming.

  8. Ivan Burrows

    .

    Socialism is a philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance, and the gospel of envy, its inherent virtue is the equal sharing of misery.

    Winston Churchill

    • Ivan Burrows

      António Espadaneira

      It’s heading that way.

    • Ivan Burrows

      António Espadaneira

      If you say so comrade, if you say so.

    • Ivan Burrows

      António Espadaneira

      We are leaving the insular EU and rejoining the free world comrade, enjoy your isolation in the decaying fortress Europe.

    • Ivan Burrows

      Yannick Cornet

      Should we believe one of the men who saved Europe or you ?

      There are two places only where socialism will work; in heaven where it is not needed, and in hell where they already have it.

      Winston Churchill.

    • Petros Papadimas

      You sir on the other hand, don’t you have any opinion of your own?

    • António Espadaneira

      Even countries that are not socialist (and we’re talking of democratic countries , right?) have their own problems with security

    • António Espadaneira

      I feel more free here where i live than in your proto-fascist island.

    • António Espadaneira

      Sorry, but my time for you is over. ;)
      (And did you really thought that i would read all your links?)

    • Cormac Begley

      What part of centre-left do you not understand? Capitalism is unsustainable. Maybe try reading a book rather than quotes from a fascist sympathiser

    • Cormac Begley

      @Ivan Burrows, Karl Marx predicted that capitalism would improve standards of living, albeit unequally, and that this is an improvement from the previous stage of historical development i.e. feudalism. However, like slavery and feudalism, capitalism relies on the exploitation of the dispossessed (working) class. Socialism is the next stage in this development and will bring with it more sustainable and equal societies based on cooperation rather than competition and exploitation (see Rojava, for example). You would know this if you read any literature on political economy, instead you rely on blogs and Western media outlets. PS Venezuela isn’t even remotely socialist. Nationalising industries isn’t equivalent to abolishing private property, it still exists whether capitalists or the state claim ownership

    • Tarquin Farquhar

      @António Espadaneira
      ‘Feel more free’?
      Where are you based then as it can’t be continental Europe?

    • Tarquin Farquhar

      @Cormac Begley
      Capitalism may well be unsustainable in its current form; however ANARCHY has, was and is never viable!

  9. Yannick Cornet

    Perhaps because our generations born in the 70s to the 90s were brought up with neoliberalism as status quo and we forgot what dreaming for compelling and beautiful visions of the future is all about – plus we have no time to do it because we must run the rat race. Thank you Thatcher and Reagan, your legacy has destroyed us.

  10. Oliver Hauss

    Funny to ask such a question just as the social democrats in Germany are resurging….

  11. Kokonas George

    What is …senter-left? Cut the crap of misinformation …People know what is Tyranny , Oligarchy, and DEMOCRACY the Peoples choice that is! Rulers hate Democracy so are you!

  12. Julia Hadjikyriacou

    They are all talk, no action like all politicians. All politicians do nothing of real substance for the peoples. Peoples lives do not improve with our own tax contributions (the mega-rich avoid tax and our money subsidises them). Peoples well being and basic rights are sacrificed for business’ profit margins and competitivity with slave labour and now robot labour products.

  13. Παυλος Χαραλαμπους

    It’s really simple they’re collapsing because they sold out their voters ( see ΣΥΡΙΖΑ at Greece) another reason is the “system”in global level.no national government regardless what they might have promised to their voters can change the rules of the game since the moment they try to enforce a different policy they going to lose “investments” and they going to be attacked in a way by the “markers” and the head funds …so more or less the choices they got is to follow neoliberal/moniterial policies that the don’t really believe or try to but some “socialist stuff ” into their programs hoping that will help them by re elected. ..off course there’s another choice for the people of EE is called REVOLUTION but it’s needs pain sacrifices that the people of Europe are not ready to make. .as the old partisan song used to say “to see the sun work is mast be done. .”

    • Joana Lopes

      I guess due to the fact that the first attempt to recover from the crisis didn’t work out as it was suposed to (people made great efforts to see little change, as more banks struggle and ask the goverment for help), measures from the center-left are now well accepted

  14. Kostis Karagiannis

    Grab something to eat, something to drink and make yourself comfortable because this is going to be a long one!
    1. Mass immigration
    They want to import large numbers of people from places where the culture is the polar opposite of ours and think they will somehow be functioning members of our society
    2. Political correctness
    To put it in terms everyone can understand political correctness is censorship disguised as manners. You can’t criticize certain things and certain ideologies because that’s somehow intolerant and racist
    3. Virtue signaling EVERYWHERE
    Just look at the way they deal with the migrant crisis! Instead of trying to help more people in Syria and the rest of the Middle East for a fraction of the cost they want to showcase their “openness” by bringing them here and claiming moral superiority while using human beings as props!
    4. They incentivise laziness
    At least in they have created this gigantic welfare state that gives money to people just for breathing the same air as everybody else! I’m not 100% against government aid to people as long as it actually helps the people in need and no one else!
    5. They are just as bigoted as the Far-right
    Just like the Nazis, they have created these echo chambers where no ideas other than their own are being discussed! They have been doing that for so long that even the idea of debating a different approach to certain issues is blasphemous to them! This doesn’t just affect the left but it also affects the right and the societies in which they live in since there is no dialog and no common solution!
    6. The are economically illiterate
    Here’s an idea that’s stupid enough it could work: make economics a mandatory school subject for the 2 final years of high school all across Europe and see the approval ratings of left-wing parties drop to a record low! Economics is simple logic! Let’s say you’re in debt, what do you do?
    A. Try to cut down on your expenses and save money to pay it back
    B. Spend even more money
    P.S. I’m sorry I made it this long, but I think just saying something like “they’re stupid” will not take us anywhere and I hope that at least on leftist will read this without being triggered and actually start a dialog

    • Vitaliy Markov

      The welfare state isn’t a bad thing if it’s operated properly. Norway is a good example

    • Kostis Karagiannis

      You read the “I don’t mind social programs as long as they work” part, right?

  15. Michael Šimková

    Confidence crisis, precipitated by unaddressed rising crime in former left wing bastions, fear over terrorism dismissed as racism, a perception of totalitarian tics reasserting themselves, all exacerbated by the economic crisis. Many of these woes were avoidable.

    In any case I really think the left-right division has run its course. Increasingly they seem more like just another identity club than about meaningful political programmes. Frankly, most of the people I meet these days who strongly identify as “leftist” or “rightist” seem kind of nuts.

  16. Ricardo Pinhal

    Beg to differ, in Portugal we’re seeing precisely the opposite! The socialist party is doing one hell of a job!

    • Stefania Portici

      con l’euro non puoi fare politiche sociali e se il tuo Paese lo sta facendo avendo la moneta euro non è un buon segno, significa che siete indebitati fino al collo e vi ruberanno tutti i beni pubblici

  17. Jason Krentos

    because they have lost the academic argument, no longer have a compelling case for their policies.

  18. Bart Van Damme

    Because they are far more concerned with calling everyone racist or “the new Hitler” than they are with actually addressing people’s concerns. The left was once the defender of the lower classes. Now they are virtue signallers seemingly interested only in locking people with the “wrong” opinion up, getting offended at everything, blaming white men for everything, and seeing fascists everywhere except in the mirror.

  19. Ivan Čorak

    Centre orientated parties are lukewarm in terms of ideas and convictions. By trying to gather as wide an electorate body as possible, they are thus too compromising and distanced from their principles. The solution is to either move (a little bit) in either side and regain their original roots, or to whip up and/or prop up some new political/social ideologies.

  20. Bobi Dochev

    It is not true, the collapse is not only for the centre-left parties we can argue, because there are many countries where left / centre-left parties rise more or less. The collapse is for the traditional parties.
    And the collapse of the traditional parties is expected – they lie votes for decades and the politics they profess proven not work!

  21. catherine benning

    One of the main reasons is lying in their campaign regarding their true policies. They give over fake promises. Add that to, most of the policies they have and use are not favourable to the citizens of countries who pay their taxes to raise the standard of living for their own people.

    Mass immigration from outside of Europe into the EU leading to no go areas and violence on a scale not seen prior to the extraordinary high levels of incomers. Politicians repeated ignoring what their voters want decade after decade.

    Then the feeling most of us have that we are not being led by those we vote for but to alien countries or groups who use their money to buy favour for their best wishes.

    It is Democracy that is collapsing because it is not fulfilling the expectations of the nations people. It is not particularly left or right, it is democracy the way we have it, which is not really democracy at all, is it. We need Direct Democracy, as this is the only way the tax payer can possibly get what they want from our governments. And even with that, will it happen. Ask the Swiss. Are they happy with the way their government has played the game on their behalf.

  22. Jose Marcal

    Because left only attracts when there is money that someone else accumulated. When we live in the post crisis years, they find no solution to actually generate money, but they always have solutions to spend…

    • Miguel Rodrigues

      That story has a nice ring to it, except that Portugal just hit the lowest deficit in democratic history with a government supported by hard left-wing parties. And with a 130% gross debt, they sure as hell didn’t do it with money someone else accumulated.
      It’s surprising how ideology seems to counter facts when you want to believe something :/

    • Andreia Teixeira

      Miguel Rodrigues you’re kidding me right?!?!?! Like you I’m portuguese and the new government has brought nothing better to the portuguese people… I am litteraly unable to save money (maybe that’s why you so surely say “they sure as hell didn’t do it with money someone else accumulated”? Actually it is impossible to “accumulate” money, because they are taking the little we have! With two kids to raise, my husband and I don’t have a choice but to get indebted when something unexpected comes up. The direct taxes have decreased for sure, but all the other have increased tremendously… In less than a year my kids kindergarden expenses rose almost 25%. The groceries are more expensive now than they were before. All other bills, such as water and electricity have gone up too. I’m not even going to discuss transport prices nor tolls. As a working citizen, I am paying a debt that corrupt politicians and bankers generated. Whilst you people confortably sit looking only at numbers, real people (you’re people) are struggling every day to get food on the table and to maintain a roof over their heads (I’m also talking about the working class). The public services do not work at all. Social Security in Portugal is a shame! Tax payers money is supposed to support basic needs such as education, health and security, however there is no money for that is there?!?! Our hospitals and schools are decadent and there is a pretend “free” public system… meaning that schools aren’t actually free because the normal working hours in Portugal are 7/8 hours per/day, 5/6 days per/week, and schools only run from 9am till 3pm (6 hours per/day; 5 days per/week)… This means that parents need to pay for their kids to stay longer or to enter earlier so they can go to work. As for health, we have a similar problem, don’t we?!?! There aren’t enough doctor’s for so many people! The service is miserable and poorly managed! We live in a country where the Minimum Salary is 540 (one of the lowest in Europe), when to get a proper house with minimum conditions to live in, costs around 300 euros and up per/month (rent alone). Whilst the State has no money to pay proper pensions for those that worked a lifetime, it has enough to pay shameless amounts to politicians and public administrators after what?… help me here… 6, 12 years of service? How much do they get? 500 thousand a year? 100 thousand a year? I believe the lowest to this day was what? 67 thousand a year? Is this your idea of a good government? One that continues to rip the benefits of the people they should be representing and looking after? In what world do you live in? A countries prosperity it is not measurable by the percentages and numbers to pay a debt that should not exist! A countries prosperity is measurable by the quality of life and justice their citizens have!… and Portugal, at the moment, is at the bottom! Whether left or right, none has done a good job on these shores. Stop selling Portugal as a good example! You’re numbers might look good to you, but that happens thanks to the sacrifices the governments have been imposing on portuguese families to pay adebt it isnot theirs to pay! We are not just a numbers on a spreadsheet, we are not a mere percentage on a debt! Stop looking at charts and statistics and start looking at the real challenges portuguese families face, maybe you’ll have a more realistic view about Portugal.

  23. Miguel Rodrigues

    Because they’ve comfortably assumed themselves as third way and governed with centre-right. And in the face of crisis, they can’t come up with innovative policies that allow voters to distinguish between them and Christian democrats. Centre-left needs to stop being afraid of losing power and come up with new policies for the hard-working people who built those parties in the first place. Because if they don’t, the populists will.

    • Alex Rot

      or they don’t learn their lessons despite failing in elections and keep coming back with the same shitty leftist answers implying that it’s not their policy that is a load of BS, but they just didn’t manage to comunicate to the public what is so great about their policy. Everytime they do it I’m like “comunication my ass. you and your policies just suck”

  24. Rosy Forlenza

    because the social pact is low on their priorities. equally if they look at bringing back more state control they get a bad press. For example, care homes which are corporate want to make a profit so they squeeze the worker, too much. Do we go back to state controlled or change the rules so that they are smaller privately run, plenty of choice with proper worker training and hours regulation? anyone that goes against the corporate ideal gets a hard time in the press and ridiculed and called a socialist (what is wrong with a bit of democratic socialism?).. the alaternative is the Blairite route where you see them make pots of money like blair and pay 10k like Hollande on his hair. He doesn’t have any ruddy hair!

  25. Alexandros Panidis

    Left parties support immigrants. Many people don’t like that. In addition, left parties do not co-operate well, that’s why they are so many of them. Things are also going worse and young people do not really believe this can change. They have no experience of the good old times. When old generations discuss about their (past) privileges, it sounds like a dream nowadays. Capitalism is everywhere, in every little corner of the world. From the time we get born, till the time we die. And it gets even worse…

  26. Stefania Portici

    a sinistra non esiste Esiste l’euro che è un metodo di politica di destra finanziaria . Non sono gli elettori ad aver abbandonato la sinistra come ideologia ma è stata la sinistra ad aver abbracciato un sistema economico neoliberista globalista ( mantiene il nomigliolo sinistra ma non è sinistra ….per cui di che cosa stiamo parlando ? ) . Esiste solo il partito unico dell’euro PUDE. the left does not exist. There is the euro which is a method of financial policy right. No voters to have abandoned the left as an ideology but was left to have embraced a neoliberal globalist economic system (keeps nomigliolo left but not left …. so what are we talking about?). There is only a single party euro PUDE

    • Stefania Portici

      quando parlo di euro, non mi riferisco solo alla moneta ma anche ai trattati. Togliendo l’euro ma avendo comunque i trattati , è la stessa cosa PUDE

    • Stefania Portici

      questo signore ad esempio è di centro sinistra e parla di destra europea, quel che hanno fatto da noi ma in tutta la UE. Vi sembra un discorso di sinistra questo ? Se capite l’italiano ascoltatelo da voi quel che dice . Da noi come da voi, UGUALE perchè la politica economica UE questo ha richiesto https://youtu.be/29uIwGXCvio

    • Alejandro Garcia

      they are only in power because the real left preferred to support the bad portuguese socialists than to let the horrible right to govern. They didn’t get the majority and didn’t shift the paradigm of the neoliberal policies.

  27. Dragos-Ronald Rugescu

    Because leftism is one of the cancers of the modern western world, especially in its currently Marxist flavour. Europe needs to get rid of it.

  28. Breogán Costa

    because they are already center-right or right parties, and they just try to go there, but no more free space.

  29. Iván Marsh Whateley

    Because is easy to be an hipocrite lair and coward that blames everyone for his own problems as right wing does and is hard to think and try to look for solutions for EVERYONE and to help everyone not just for them selves.

  30. Vytautas Vėžys

    Because right wing at least are honest and don’t hide behind noble reasons for their bad decisions…

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