Despite the near-irrelevancy of social democratic parties elsewhere in Europeby Chris Hanretty / June 19, 2017 / Leave a comment
To grasp quite how remarkable a feat the UK Labour Party pulled off by adding 10 points to its vote share, and bursting through 40 per cent of the ballot, it is necessary to place its performance in context. Across Europe social democracy—and for all the charges of Marxist extremism thrown at Jeremy Corbyn, his “spend more money on the welfare state” manifesto was resoundingly social democratic—has long been on the slide.
At the start of May, the average share of the vote won by social democratic parties in the most recent parliamentary elections in western European countries was 23 per cent. Despite the stunning advance by Labour, the simultaneous collapse of the French Socialists in the June Parliamentary elections was so dramatic that this average is now set to fall further, to around 22 per cent. This European average is the lowest it has been in the post-war period, and is down from a high of 34 per cent, back in 1999. The serious rot has set in only very recently: until 2010, the average had never dipped below 30 per cent.
Social democratic parties once governed—and now they risk irrelevancy. Less than two decades ago, in October 1998, the EU15 (as it was then) met in the Austrian resort of Pörtschach am Wörthersee, and social democratic parties supplied 11 of the 15 heads of government in attendance. They came from Greece’s Pasok; from France’s PS, from the Dutch PvdA—but none of these parties now commands more than 10 per cent of the vote. At the last European Council meeting, just seven of the 28 countries were represented by social democrats—and of those, only Portugal’s António Costa (pictured right) had actually won an election within the past two years.
Given the adverse tide that social democracy faces, many observers on the continent would have been unsurprised if Labour, which had been stuck at a losing 29-30 per cent in the last two general elections, had continued to slide in the same way as so many of its European sisters. All the more so, because it had been so hopelessly divided. And all the more so, again, because—as the referendum showed—its traditional electoral coalition appeared to be beset by exactly the same sort of damaging schisms that blight social democrats…