by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Here’s a startling fact: There have been eight leaders of the British Labour Party in the past 40 years. Seven of them failed to win a single general election. The exception, Tony Blair, was a Labour politician only in the most technical sense. Leftists saw him as a disguised conservative, a cuckoo in the nest. To this day, Labour activists use “Blairite” as the worst of insults, viler even than “Tory.”
Let’s widen the camera shot a little. All over Europe, traditional parties of the Center-Left have been losing badly. As I write, opinion polls show the French Socialists in fourth place, the Dutch Labour Party in seventh. Greece’s PASOK, the leading party since the early 1980s, is now polling at 7 percent. Spain’s PSOE, which had a comfortable majority as recently as 10 years ago, has been displaced by the more radical Podemos. Social Democrats in former communist countries, such as Poland and Hungary, have, if anything, fared even worse.
What is going on? The immediate explanation is clear enough. The established parties of the Center-Left backed the merger of Europe’s currencies in the 1990s. As the euro brought poverty to the south and tax increases to the north, voters turned against the politicians whose fingerprints were on the murder weapon.
In most cases, those parties then made things worse by backing the 2008 bank bailouts, convincing many of their former supporters that they were on the side of wealthy financiers rather than of working people.
But a collapse on such a scale doesn’t happen overnight. The parties aligned to the Party of European Socialists – the main Center-Left bloc in Europe – dominated Europe in the 1990s and, as late as 2004, were still more likely to be in office than not. Now, according to the latest opinion survey, their support is below 20 percent in the EU as a whole.