Across Europe, a chill is being felt by the centre-right parties that used to be the great bulwark of the international liberal order. What happens now?by Andrew Gamble / June 15, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
Since the 2008 financial crash much ink has been spilled on the demise of the centre-left across Europe. Here in Britain it hastened the demise of New Labour, while in Germany it turned the SPD into a perennial junior coalition partner. They were the lucky ones. The once-dominant Pasok has been wiped out in Greece, the Socialist Party of François Mitterrand sunk to fifth at the presidential elections last year, while the Labour Party in the Netherlands slumped from coalition government to an embarrassing seventh.
The avowedly progressive side of the ideological spectrum is, perhaps ironically, always the more given to gloomy introspection. But this time its anguish appeared to be justified. For the best part of a decade after a crisis that exposed much that was rotten in the old order, events appeared to be playing out against those forces that wanted to reform it.
That pattern may have seemed surprising to some, but perhaps not to students of Britain’s political history in the 1920s, 1930s or indeed 1980s. Hard times once again appeared to be shoring up the establishment.
Meanwhile, support for the centre-right remained solid. For many years after the crash, the parties that helped forge the post-war “west” and have run it for most of the time since sometimes looked as strong as ever. Angela Merkel was able to increase her vote in 2013, a feat matched by David Cameron in 2015, when he succeeded in swatting the challenge from Ukip out of the way and winning an unexpected overall majority.
Other insurgent anti-establishment parties were, on the whole, being held at bay. Given the economic battering western democracies have faced since 2008, the resilience of the old political order was remarkable. But will this last much longer?
In the last year or two, elections—and in the UK a referendum, too—have begun to indicate that the centre-right forces, like their centre-left counterparts, are now on the defensive. In Germany, in France, in the UK and latterly in Italy they have proved unable to command majorities, and seen their core support shrink and with it their ability to form governments.