Times 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?
The 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.