Monday 21 November 2011

Does the Left have a Future?

The recent election in Spain has only served to confirm a trend that has been apparent for a number of years now.  The collapse in votes for the the Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) and the left in general mirrors that in other countries.  Something similar happened in the UK at last year’s general election.  According to one of the Spanish newspapers 24 of the 27 countries in the EU now have right of centre governments.   This might appear to be a ringing endorsement of the right, but this is not necessarily so.
In most cases it is more a case of throwing out the incumbents and giving the other lot a chance.  Without it must also be said any great enthusiasm on the part of the electorate.  Certainly in Spain the victorious People’s Party (PP) offered no new thinking about how to combat the crisis.  Indeed by all accounts they offered no ideas at all.  The Socialists were rightly blamed for failing to do anything about the crisis and were kicked out.  But few Spaniards are much enamoured with the PP.
With all these right wing governments in power you would think that there should be some kind of consensus about how to deal with the crisis.   But this is manifestly not the case.  There is little agreement among the various governments and even the much vaunted Franco-German duopoly seems to be further apart than ever on ways forward.
It must also be pointed out that in the elections to come over the next two years or so, in France, Italy and Germany there is every possibility that the left in some form will be returned to power.  However if this does happen it will be more a result of the unpopularity of the incumbents than anything positive the left has to offer.
For this is the key question for all those on the left of the political spectrum.  What does the Left have to offer?  Does the Left have any kind of coherent story to tell about what caused the crisis and how to get out of it?  It appears not.  Certainly in the UK, Labour is still pretty much stuck in the by now widely discredited neo-liberal strait-jacket.  All it offers is a bit less in the size and pace of the cuts.  It remains to be seen whether François Hollande and his team can come up with something more convincing.
A further question is what is the Left now anyway?  Apart from the traditional big parties, who all contributed in one way or another to the crisis, who else is around on the Left?   There are plenty of parties out there, but few ever manage to win representation in Parliament.  In Spain the United Left (IU), a reincarnation of the once powerful Communist Party manage to win just 7% of the votes.  While other left parties, particularly in Catalunya, Galicia and the Basque country also won votes, the overall total cannot have much more than 10% if that.
This it has to be said is pretty pathetic.  Why has the mainstream Left been so willing to side up to bankers and big business in general instead of standing up for working people?  And why have the small, more radical Left parties completely failed to win the trust of more than a handful of voters?  It cannot all be down to the media.  Something very bad has happened to the Left.  The current situation should be a godsend to parties on the Left.  Falling incomes in real terms for most workers, rising unemployment and severe cuts to public services and welfare benefits should be ideal territory for the Left to work out a coherent programme to get us out of this mess.  The trouble with economic crisis is that too often in the past they have been used to further the nasty authoritarian right.  If the Left fails to rise to this challenge this could get ever nastier.
Just why the Left has failed to come up with a coherent story is most perplexing.  The evidence of what has happened over the last five decades is overwhelming and out there in the public domain.  The following example all refer to the USA, but the big picture is unlikely to be that different in the EU.  To get an idea of just how rich the super, super rich really are, Singapore based Wealth-X has usefully identified just who they are and how much wealth they own.  For the world as a whole, some 186,000 individuals hold $25 trillion in combined wealth.  In the USA, around 59,000 individuals hold a combined net worth of $7.6 trillion.  To which the only response is WOW!  Surely the Left can come up with some modest proposals to tax some of this wealth?  One such modest proposal can be found here.
Not only have the super rich become more and more wealthy, they have done so at the expense of the rest of us.  Hence the contrast between the 1% at the top and the 99% of us somewhere around the bottom.  An excellent article in Business Insider charts just how this inequality gap has developed over the previous decades.  The writer sums it all up rather nicely:  “The problem in a nutshell is this: Inequality in this country has hit a level that has been seen only once in the nation's history, and unemployment has reached a level that has been seen only once since the Great Depression. And, at the same time, corporate profits are at a record high.  In other words, in the never-ending tug-of-war between "labor" and "capital," there has rarely—if ever—been a time when "capital" was so clearly winning.”
If that is not a rallying cry for a Left alternative then the game is trully over.    There is a fairly simple story out there, but we need, desperately need a new generation of leaders to articulate this in a way that will win the trust and votes of the majority of the population.  Ed Milliband anyone?

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