Germany’s Martin Schulz looks less and less like the savior of European social democracy.
His party performed poorly in North Rhine-Westphalia on Sunday, the third state election this year in which the Social Democrats were bested by Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats.
I argued here earlier in the week that North Rhine-Westphalia’s election was a crucial test for Schulz. It is the heartland of German social democracy: the biggest industrial state with four of Germany’s ten largest cities and a long history of trade unionism. The state has been governed by a coalition of Social Democrats and Greens since 2010 under a popular state prime minister, Hannelore Kraft.
Social democrats might despair after the collapse of the French Socialist Party on Sunday. Their candidate, Benoît Hamon, received only 6.4 percent of the votes, almost an historic low.
Hamon’s defeat comes mere weeks after the Dutch Labor Party sunk to its lowest level of support ever in parliamentary elections.
And it comes weeks before the British Labour Party is expected to suffer yet another defeat under the feckless leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
There is some good news. Emmanuel Macron, the closest thing to a proper social democrat in France, is on track to win the presidency. Germany’s Social Democrats are riding high in the polls. Italy’s center-left Democrats are in power and will probably remain so after the elections this year.
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.
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”
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”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”