The choice between left and right in politics amounts to the choice of different brands of laundry detergent. It’s made up from identical ingredients, more or less diluted and smells differently, according to your olfactory preferences. All brands of politics are, however, brought to you by the same people very much like all the different brands of „Tide“ are brought to you by P&G.
In the years following Thatcherism and Reaganomics, most leftist European parties moved to the right and assimilated to the mainstream consensus of neo-liberal economic policies. Witness the move from Labour to New Labour or the German Social Democratic Party’s Agenda 2010.
The pendulum has moved to the right and has taken what used to be leftist parties with it, thus reducing the influence of the working class and middle class and increasing the influence of the economic elites.
Are we now at a turning point and will the movement be reversed, at least to some degree?
Probably yes. As more and more, especially middle class people, feel the pain of having to squeeze a living out of what is left after everybody else had their pound of flesh, we see a rise of discontent. Why should Greek doctors, nurses, workers or pensioners foot the bill for what was basically bad investing by banks and bad governing by elected officials? (One could use harsher words for some developments, but let’s leave it at that).
Why should German workers earn a fraction of their co-workers’ pay, doing the same job, because de-regulation allows for unlimited „temporary“ staff to be hired from personnel-leasing companies which make their profits by selling labor cheap.
And why in turn, should the same workers see a decrease in their vested pension plans, because cheap labour can’t pay into the coffers of the pension plans in the same amount than well paid workers could.
So how does this anger translate into change?
Sorry mates, I’m not talking about a revolution. I am talking about elections that have some European leaders’ knickers in a tight bunch.
January 2015, Greece
First came the elections in January in Greece. The pronouncedly leftist Syriza won on a platform of „No to austerity“.
There was an almost immediate consent among European leaders to treat Greece as harshly as possible in the upcoming debt relief negotiations. One can’t have a radical left party succeed in getting austerity relief where others (namely in Italy, Spain and Portugal austerity measures have been agreed to by centrist governments) have failed. It would set a bad example. Meaning, there is serious concern any success of Syriza would translate into gains in the upcoming elections in Spain for the radical left Podemos.
Pushing back on Syriza was a success in the end, one is inclined to think Prime Minister Tsipras’ folding in the face of pressure may have something to do with it. Polls for new elections scheduled for October show a decline in voter share for Syriza.
Note to Greece: If the Left’s policies equal the Right’s policies, your vote does not matter and will go to upholding the status quo.
May 2015, UK
David Cameron ran on an economic platform of austerity, Dave Miliband ran on an economic platform of not so austere austerity with some human kindness thrown in. The Scottish National Party ran on an economic platform of no austerity. The Liberal Democrats ran as pro austerity.
Now what happened? The Conservatives won the elections all but wiping out the Liberal democrats by picking up their seats. The Scotttish National Party gained hugely all but wiping out Miliband’s Labour in Scotland. Miliband’s Labour gained some in Cameron territory, but nowhere near enough to make up for their losses in Scotland. Keep in mind the SNP was eligible in Scotland only or Labour would most likely have bled even worse. So Cameron remained Prime Minister and Miliband has resigned.
Facts, however, point into a different direction.
Given that there are two camps: Left-leaning (SNP; Labour) and right-leaning (Conservatives, LD). The left has gained 73 seats and lost 48, gains going overwhelmingly to the anti austerity SNP. The right has gained 38 and lost 69 seats.
Note to the UK: If the Left’s policies equal the Right’s policies, your vote does not matter and will go to upholding the status quo.
September 2015, UK
In an additional twist to the story Labour needed a new leader, after Miliband’s resignation. In a decisive win, exceeding the 1994 triumph of Tony Blair, Jeremy Corbyn took over the fate of the Labour Party today. As soon as his gains in popularity and his prospects of winning were palpable, the Centrists in the Labour Party came out in force to thwart Corby’s ambitions. Again, the centrist establishment mustered all their forces to try and stop a move to the left. (They may have made an unforced error, however, by enlisting Tony Blair for their efforts. Blair is considered damaged goods and fodder for the ICC in The Hague.)
September 2015, USA
Bernie Sanders surges in the polls.
Will or even should Bernie Sanders win the Democratic nomination and the Presidency ?
I say: NO, he shouldn’t.
While Sanders is addressing most of the pressing problems for workers and middle class families and rightly so, a Sanders Presidency is not the way to go at this point. Even if he could win, which I doubt, it would be a Pyrrhic victory and would not exceed one term. I remember perfectly well the last outsider activist President who brought all his decency, humanitarian zeal and values to the White House. Jimmy Carter, if successful, could have changed your society into a more inclusive and gentle beast. There was not much of a basis in party politics, however, and what we got was 12 years of Reaganomics and neo-con wars from Republicans and then some more neo-liberalism from the Clinton Democrats.
Many were and are disappointed in President Obama, but it was he who managed to stem, if not roll back neo-liberal economic policies and bring some much needed relief to average Americans through the PP-ACA. I do believe that Hillary Clinton would be at minimum a stop-gap President, who would continue to stem the flood of right wing economic policy and, very importantly, the appointment of more right wing judges. And she is far more liberal than Bill Clinton was.
What is missing, is the groundwork in your local constituencies. Democrats are too much activists and too little party soldiers these days. Far too many town, county and state elected officials are Republicans. Gerrymandering by same elected officials makes it even more difficult for change to occur and for Democrats to prevail in Congress. The task is huge. All the activism and grassroots movements need to increase efforts on the tedious task of taking back townhouses, councils, congressional districts and ultimately Congress. Incidentally Congress is where laws are made, Democrats are not paying enough attention to that.
Meanwhile, if you are lucky, Hillary Clinton will be good for two terms, she has a better chance than Sanders, that gives you eight years of opportunity to rebuild the Democratic Party from the bottom up. Look at the ages of the Democratic leadership and Bernie, too. You need to rebuild the political Party base. (As clownesque as they may be, the Republican field holds a number of younger aspirants. They can bide their time.) A President Clinton would not merely be a lesser evil, she would be a soundly liberal, but not leftist President.
Note to the US: If the Left’s organization leaves organizing to the Right, your superior policy will not matter and you will be upholding the status quo.