Left behind

The people of Europe went to the polls on 4th June and saw various political blocs vying for votes across Europe, with mixed fortunes across the board. The Greens gained ten Members of European Parliament (MEPs) in comparison to 2004, yet it was the marked decline in the votes for the left and apparent increase in votes for the right that caught most attention. The ‘Socialist’ soft left bloc lost twenty MEPs, in contrast to the centre right who appeared to hold steady. What really sparked debate was the apparent increase in support for the far right parties such as the BNP and Geert Wilders’ PVV party, the latter gaining four MEPs in the Netherlands. It leaves dark clouds hanging over European politics about European attitudes to questions of immigration and national sovereignty. To what extent are these results testimony to the failure of the soft left in advancing solutions to the current problems of recession?

Existing ‘soft left’ ruling parties, such as Gordon Brown’s Labour Party and Zapatero’s PSOE in Spain took a heavy defeat in these elections. Many had predicted this defeat as inevitable for such parties amidst the economic recession engulfing Europe. Yet the same was not true where conservative centre right parties have held power. Sarkozy, Merkel and Berlusconi all secured comfortable support, in spite of the economic downturn, which leaves fundamental questions to be asked about where the ‘Socialist’ bloc has failed in the economic downturn.

The ‘Socialist’ bloc has failed for several reasons. The most obvious explanation concerns the tensions that currently exist about the direction of such parties. Gordon Brown has been scrapping to defend his dwindling authority, whilst in France a power struggle has still not been resolved about leadership. The lack of effective leadership and unity amongst these parties has meant that their focus has not been on fighting a campaign that discusses the substantive issues that the people of Europe currently face. Therefore, it has enabled the far right to exploit fears with their insidious messages of hatred and division. There has been no effective counter attack to many of the claims made by the far right, and far too much attention on playing the shady game of power politics in greedy self interest.

I would also argue that these parties no longer truly adopt positions that support the working class of Europe. The parties have moved too far to the centre ground, and in doing so have become embroiled in corruption, sleaze and big business, whilst taking their working class support for granted. This has exposed the weakness of the New Labour project, as many Labour Party voters simply didn’t go out to vote, as they knew the party doesn’t truly represent the working class. Indeed, this was replicated across Europe, where there was simply no incentive to vote for the soft left. The focus on greedy self interest, power politics and support for the big business status quo has undermined the promises they had made to help people during this recession.

The lack of the effective counter attack against the far right also indicates the failures of the far left in Europe. The bloc lost three MEPs in total. The lack of unity is highlighted when we see that two parties in the UK – the Socialist Labour Party and no2eu – fought two very similar campaigns, often splitting each other’s votes. Surely it would be far more effective to have a concerted effort to combine resources and put forward a platform that gives solutions to the working class.

I feel such a platform is possible, as the New Labour project of pursuing the centre ground has proven unpopular across Europe. These parties to my mind can no longer truly speak for workers’ interests or offer solutions that will counter the gains made by the far right. Instead, a new approach is urgent and essential. Such work will be difficult, to gain the funds and attention necessary. However the victories of Joe Higgins in Ireland and the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste in France show that now is the time for the left to begin to work together. It will be the most effective way to combat the BNP, to help people during the recession, and to offer a true alternative to the shallow politics of greedy self interest that will haunt the soft left in future.

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