Across Europe left-wing parties may be losing, but left-wing ideas are proving surprisingly popularby Steve Bloomfield / March 2, 2018 / Leave a comment
The obituaries have already been written. “Why the Italian left looks doomed,” reads a Guardian headline; “Italy’s rising jobless rate piles pressure on Democratic party,” points out the Financial Times. They’re probably right. Opinion polls suggest that the centre-left Partito Democratico (PD), which has been in office since 2013, will lose this Sunday’s general election. The PD is set to win no more than a quarter of the vote, finishing below the populist Five Star Movement (5SM). More importantly, the PD and its fellow centre-left parties are likely to be even further behind the combined tally of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, the far-right Lega Nord and two other fringe right-wing parties. There is a slim chance of a coalition between the PD and Forza, but there is little appetite for it, either within the two parties or in the country as a whole.
The demise of the centre-left is a story that has played out across Europe over the past 12 months: in the Netherlands, the Dutch Labour Party went from coalition partner to seventh place, in France, the Socialists lost the presidency and ended up in fifth, while in Germany, the SPD may cling on to power, but its vote has crumbled and in the most recent opinion polls it was not only behind the far-right Alternativ für Deutschland but also facing a battle with the Greens to be the leading party of the left. Of the European Union’s 28 nations just four—Malta, Sweden, Belgium and Portugal—have centre-left governments.
But we tend to tell these stories in broad sweeps—a shift to the right, a rise in populism—while the reality is a little more nuanced. For while, yes, there really has been a shift to the right and there really has been a rise in populism, there are elements of western Europe’s current political tale that should give the left some hope.
Left-wing parties may be struggling, but left-wing ideas are proving surprisingly popular. All three main parties in Italy’s election—the PD, Silvio Berlusconi’s right-wing Forza Italia and Beppe Grillo’s populist 5SM—are proposing left-wing economic policies in their manifestos. Forza and the 5SM want to establish a minimum income, while the PD wants to increase the minimum wage.