Monday 15 June 2009

What's Left?

Some thoughts on the recent Euro elections. Which you may have missed as they were about as exciting as a Gordon Brown relaunch. Apart from the flurry of attention given to the election of two BNP MEPs, the main media story was the success of the centre right and the collapse of the centre left vote throughout Europe. A rather superficial attempt at conveying the meaning of the election outcomes. While the traditional left of centre parties did on the whole do very poorly, the centre right parties did not in fact do very well. Across Europe as a whole, the main right wing parties lost votes, though not nearly as badly as the mainstream left which saw its vote evaporate. New Labour in particular did very badly, polling less than UKIP. The French socialists and the German SPD also registered significant loss of votes. However, whatever spin you put on it the results do not amount to a ringing endorsement of the mainstream right. In fact just about all the main political groupings lost votes. Only the Greens and their allies in the European Free Alliance, who include the SNP and Plaid Cymry, gained slightly, up from 5.5% to 7.2%. Not much to write home about either. Clearly though, the biggest losers were the left, both the traditional parties and the radical left.

What has caused this collapse of the left? In the first place it may be long overdue to revisit the language used. Referring to New Labour or the current French Socialist Party as left wing is pretty much meaningless. Along with the German Social Democrats they long ago gave up on traditional left wing causes to become standard bearers of neo-liberalism. At least in Italy they don't even pretend. The recently formed party created by the former left wing parties is simply the Democratic Party. While it is true that our continental brothers and sisters have managed to retain better funded and more generous health and welfare provision than in the UK, none have put forward any kind of alternative economic and social programme to the dominant neo-liberal consensus. To paraphrase a slogan from an earlier generation the current so-called left offers capitalism with a human face. Though in relation to immigration, asylum and the treatment of minorities, especially Muslim minorities, there is precious little evidence of much in the way of humanity. The left often seems intent on proving itself to be even more illiberal than the right on many issues.

While this approach has clearly brought electoral success during economic good times, the recent downturn and current crisis has badly exposed the left. Without a credible alternative strategy for combating the crisis voters have to a greater or lesser extent just deserted the traditional left. Though the right have not convinced many, the left has been exposed as the emperor with no clothes, or perhaps more accurately with no clothes of his or her own.

As for the radical left or the Group of European United Left and the Nordic Green Alliance, they have failed to make much of an impact anywhere, with the possible exception of Germany where they won 7.5% of the vote, which is still not a lot. As this grouping includes Sinn Feinn it would seem to be more a group of convenience than a genuine meeting of minds on the way forward. Europe is full of miniscule left wing parties most of which never win enough votes to gain seats in any Parliament anywhere. It is not at all clear if the current crisis will bring enough of them together to develop a common programme which can offer a credible and electorally popular alternative to not just the right but the traditional left.

Faced with the catastrophic failure of the current neo-liberal consensus, which in addition to bringing us to the verge of economic collapse, has also brought us everlasting wars of occupation and a constant erosion of our civil liberties, you would expect there to be an opening for a left wing alternative. The current leaders of the discredited traditional left parties are clearly unable and probably unwilling to embark on any kind of fundamental rethink. Are there enough members of these parties to provide a new generation of leaders? One open to real alternatives? The radical left parties have so far never achieved any kind of electoral success. Can they change? If not, what's left? God knows!

No comments:

Post a Comment