Sweden’s Social Democrats Take Risk with Hardline Policies

French president François Hollande and Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven attend a meeting with other European socialist leaders in Brussels, June 28, 2016
French president François Hollande and Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven attend a meeting with other European socialist leaders in Brussels, June 28, 2016 (PES)

Sweden’s Stefan Löfven is taking the fight to the far right. Politico reports that the prime minister and Social Democratic Party leader is implementing a hard line on border control, crime and defense.

With his tough stance, Löfven hopes to avoid the fate of sister parties elsewhere in Europe who have failed to convince voters that they are still relevant now that the welfare states they helped build are well-established.

Polls show the Swedish left down a few points. The nationalist Sweden Democrats have moved up.

Löfven’s party would still get nearly 30 percent support on its own and 40 percent in combination with its left-wing allies; a far cry from the dismal performance of center-left parties in France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

But like social democrats elsewhere, Sweden’s are losing their traditional, working-class supporters to the far right. Read more “Sweden’s Social Democrats Take Risk with Hardline Policies”

Dilemma for Dutch Social Democrats After Historic Defeat

Dutch Labor Party leader Lodewijk Asscher makes a speech in The Hague, October 31, 2016
Dutch Labor Party leader Lodewijk Asscher makes a speech in The Hague, October 31, 2016 (SWZ)

Open Europe’s Vincenzo Scarpetta‏ has called it the PASOK-ization of the Dutch Labor Party. In an historic defeat on Wednesday, the social democrats went down from 25 to 6 percent support, reducing them from the second to the seventh largest party in parliament.

The Greens and far-left Socialists, long Labor’s smaller siblings on the left, did better, winning 9 percent support each.

The result was not unexpected. Labor’s popularity fell when it formed a coalition government with the right in 2012 and never recovered.

The choice it now faces is the same for social democrats elsewhere: either attempt to lure back traditional working-class and migrant voters with an economically more populist program or double down on center-left politics that appeal to the socially progressive middle class. Read more “Dilemma for Dutch Social Democrats After Historic Defeat”

Renzi Picks Side in Italy’s Blue-Red Culture War

Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi answers a reporter's question in Mexico City, Mexico, April 20, 2016
Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi answers a reporter’s question in Mexico City, Mexico, April 20, 2016 (Palazzo Chigi)

Italy’s Democratic Party leader, Matteo Renzi, launched his candidacy for reelection this week by presenting himself as the alternative to nationalist leaders in his own country as well as America and France.

“Some people wanted a party congress to find an alternative to Renzi-ism. It needs to be done as an alternative to Trumpism, Le Penism and even Grilloism,” the former prime minister said, referring to the new president of the United States, the leader of France’s National Front and the founder of Italy’s anti-establishment Five Star Movement. Read more “Renzi Picks Side in Italy’s Blue-Red Culture War”

European Social Democrats Warm to Coalitions with Far Left

The sun sets on the Saint Nicholas' Church and town hall of Berlin, Germany, January 26, 2010
The sun sets on the Saint Nicholas’ Church and town hall of Berlin, Germany, January 26, 2010 (Mika Meskanen)

The formation of an all-left city government in Berlin that includes the once-communist Die Linke follows a pattern: center-left parties across Europe are increasingly willing to team up with their rivals on the far left.

Germany’s Social Democrats shunned Die Linke for decades. The two parties disagree on EU and industrial policy, NATO membership, relations with Russia and welfare.

The alliance in Berlin is only the second time in German history the two have shared power. Read more “European Social Democrats Warm to Coalitions with Far Left”

The Case for Permanent Coalitions on the Left

Swedish Social Democratic Party leader Stefan Löfven makes a speech in Stockholm, August 10, 2014
Swedish Social Democratic Party leader Stefan Löfven makes a speech in Stockholm, August 10, 2014 (Socialdemokraterna/Anders Löwdin)

Social democratic parties in Europe should make permanent alliances with smaller parties to their left and right in order to keep their constituency united, argues a Dutch political scientist.

Joop van den Berg, formerly of Leiden University, writes that the traditional social democratic alliance, between workers and the intellectual middle class, is breaking down. The former are defecting to either populists on the far left (Die Linke in Germany, Podemos in Spain) or nationalists on the right (the Danish People’s Party, the Dutch Freedom Party). The latter are switching to Greens or centrist liberals in the middle.

One way to stem this, Van den Berg proposes, would be for social democrats to ally permanently with the other parties of the left. Then they would no longer need to fight on two fronts at once. Read more “The Case for Permanent Coalitions on the Left”

Europe’s Social Democrats Can Learn from Canada

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada is interviewed in New York, March 17
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada is interviewed in New York, March 17 (PMO)

The failure of Spain’s Socialist Party to form a government with support from both the far left and social liberals in the political center reflects a broader trend. Across Europe, social democratic parties are struggling.

After the elections in Spain in December left neither the Socialists nor the conservative People’s Party with an absolute majority, the Atlantic Sentinel cautioned the former against entering into a grand coalition. Likeminded parties in Germany and the Netherlands, we pointed out, made just such pacts with the center-right and ended up pleasing no one.

Most disappointed were their voters on the far left, who, polls suggest, have defected to purists, like the Greens in Germany and the Socialist Party in the Netherlands.

But the alternative — social democrat-led alliances with the far left — would have appalled centrists.

Spain’s Socialists wisely decided against a coalition with the anti-establishment movement Podemos. The Social Democrats in Germany have only started cooperating with the formerly-communist Die Linke at the local and state level in the last few years. A federal coalition between the two is still unlikely.

More fundamentally, the center-left’s dilemma stems from the fact that what Andrew Sullivan, a British blogger, has called Europe’s red-blue culture war over modernity is playing out inside these traditional workers’ parties. Read more “Europe’s Social Democrats Can Learn from Canada”

Leadership Candidate Right About Where Labour Failed

At least one of the candidates to succeed Ed Miliband as head of the British Labour Party understands where he went wrong. Liz Kendall writes in The Guardian that the party needs to be far more trusting of people to make their own decisions.

Miliband resigned after losing the election for Labour last month. His leadership had marked a departure from the centrist “New Labour” of former prime minister Tony Blair. Miliband moved his party back to the left and — despite his talk of “new politics” — revived what is one of socialism’s least attractive qualities: its inability to trust people.

Rather than rely on individuals to know what’s best for them and make their own decisions in a free market — allowing for the possibility that they might make bad decisions, like eating too much fast food or borrowing too much money — socialists would rather give “experts” the power to make choices for everyone.

In twentieth-century Britain, this left-wing mentality conspired with a right-wing paternalism to create one of the most centralized states in the developed world. Read more “Leadership Candidate Right About Where Labour Failed”

After Defeat, Blairites Try to Forestall Lurch to the Left

Senior Labour figures have said the party is “down but not out” following its defeat in Britain’s general election. Many call for a return to the centrist policies of the 1990s when Labour won three elections in a row under Tony Blair.

Liz Kendall became the first lawmaker to say she would stand for the party leadership on Sunday after Ed Miliband resigned two days earlier, having won only 232 seats for Labour in the House of Commons, down from 257.

Labour, she said, had to find a way of “keeping our working-class supporters while reaching out to Conservative supporters and Middle England.”

Kendall is a long-shot candidate. Two stronger contenders are Tristram Hunt, the left-wing shadow education secretary, and Chuka Umunna, the more centrist shadow business secretary. Both recognized on Sunday that their party had failed to woo moderate voters who backed Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party instead. Read more “After Defeat, Blairites Try to Forestall Lurch to the Left”

Business Policy Divides Socialists in Britain, France

French president François Hollande speaks with other European socialist party leaders in Brussels, March 19
French president François Hollande speaks with other European socialist party leaders in Brussels, March 19 (PES)

Socialists in France and the United Kingdom are struggling with the same problem: how to mix their left-wing instincts with a program that does not scare businesses.

Britain’s Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, tried to woo business leaders on Monday, saying the ruling Conservative Party’s proposed referendum on European Union membership was a greater threat to enterprise than his regulation and spending plans.

Bosses were not convinced. Some told the Financial Times a Labour government would a “nightmare” and “drive fear and shockwaves through the business community.”

Although polls show Britons prefer the Conservatives’ David Cameron over Miliband as prime minister, the Labour Party could win more seats in May’s election and form a minority government with support from the left-wing Scottish National Party.

Miliband’s constant excoriations of Cameron as a friend of big business and his laments in 2011 that “asset strippers” and “predatory” enterprises were “scooping up” the gains of Britain’s economic recovery alarmed many. Their anxiety was stoked when Labour proposed a two-year freeze in energy rates, a renationalization of railways and profit caps for National Health Service contractors.

The party also advocates a minimum wage increase from £6.50 to £8 per hour and a ban on “exploitive” zero-hours contracts. Finally, it wants to force companies with government contracts to provide apprenticeships.

Labour is not united behind this anti-business plan. Whereas Miliband and leftwingers felt vindicated by the 2008 financial crisis, centrists in the party caution against a break with the more business-friendly New Labour of the late 1990s and early 2000s. An election defeat in May might tilt the balance of power in the party back in their favor.

That is what’s happened in France. While François Hollande was elected president in 2012 on a tax-the-rich platform, his Socialist Party government has turned more pro-business after losing the European Parliament and municipal elections in 2014 and elections for the départements last week. Hollande installed the reformist Manuel Valls as prime minister in April last year and later replaced the far-left firebrand Arnaud Montebourg as economy minister with Emmanuel Macron, a former banker.

The duo has set out to “unblock the economy, liberate energies, lift constraints,” as the premier put it, and enacted reforms that allow businesses to operate on more Sundays, shorten labor arbitration procedures and open up protected professions such as pharmacists and notaries.

Hollande also unveiled tax cuts worth €40 billion by 2017 that should help companies reduce labor costs.

Although a majority of the French support the measures, the more sensible economic policy has come at the expense of left-wing unity. The Greens left Hollande’s coalition last year. Montebourg is harboring presidential ambitions. Far-left parties refused to back the Socialists in the most recent elections, allowing the conservatives to take over control of 28 départements.

The Socialist Party itself is divided as well. Macron and Valls had to bypass parliament for their reforms because a sizable minority of their own lawmakers would have voted against them.

A more liberal economic policy should help France reduce unemployment which may ultimately vindicate Hollande’s U-turn. If he manages to transform his into a normal social democratic party, it may not even have to wait another twenty years before winning a presidential election.

Labour was similarly kept out of power for almost two decades after Margaret Thatcher won the 1979 election on a promise to reverse its disastrous economic policy. It wasn’t until Tony Blair reinvented the party as pro-business and pro-middle class that it won an election again.

That should stand out as a clear enough warning to Miliband. It is not by accident that Labour’s popularity has dropped from a 43 percent high four years ago to 32 percent today. Many Britons may share his dislike of the big banks and high train fares but they are not convinced that a return to the big-government interventionist policies of the 1970s is the only and best solution.

Should he nevertheless win the election, the threat of a party split will loom large. Miliband’s lurch to the left dismayed New Labourites from the start but they have largely kept silent, knowing they cozied up with big business more than the Conservatives have and that their agenda of financial deregulation at the very least contributed to the 2008 crash. Should Labour enter into a pact with the Scottish nationalists and possibly even the Greens — who are totally ignorant of business — after the election, however, their patience may be stretched to the limit.

Florence Mayor Carves Out “Third Way” for Italy’s Democrats

Florence mayor Matteo Renzi believes Italy’s left can get up to 40 percent support in the next election if it imitates the “Third Way” policies of former British prime minister Tony Blair.

Renzi told Il Foglio newspaper that he is “fascinated with the idea of ​​doing in the Democratic Party what Tony Blair did in 1994 with New Labour.” Read more “Florence Mayor Carves Out “Third Way” for Italy’s Democrats”