Posts Tagged 'democracy'

Why the left loses: Explaining the decline of centre-left parties

Are centre-left parties across Europe facing a future of decline? Drawing on a new book, Rob Manwaring and Paul Kennedy argue that an essential element in any robust democracy is an effective centre-left. However, centre-left parties now face a number of major challenges, from the rise of new parties to the erosion of their traditional support bases, and only by addressing these challenges can their decline be halted.

Originally published by the LSE EUROPP blog on November 8th 2017. 

Rob Manwaring

Paul Kennedy

Is the centre-left in terminal decline? At present, the electoral fortunes of the main social democratic and labour parties are not healthy – following Donald Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016, a suite of elections has tended to see the main centre-left party lose out.

In Britain, despite the back-fire of Teresa May’s snap election, The Labour Party has now lost three straight elections, last winning in 2005. Elsewhere, 2017 was a mostly bleak year for the centre-left, with record defeats for the PvDA in the Netherlands, and a near destruction of the French PS under Benoît Hamon in the French elections. Yet again, Angela Merkel has bested the SPD in Germany, and the left also lost in Norway, despite a close race. It also remains out of office in Australia, Spain and Finland.

In other places, the centre-left might be in office, but either in minority government or in a fragile electoral setting (Denmark, Portugal, Italy). Of course, the trend is not uniform, and the recent election in New Zealand does demonstrate that the centre-left can win from seemingly difficult circumstances. Yet, since the highpoint of the late 1990s (at one point 15 of the then 17 EU member states were headed by the centre-left), the electoral returns have been poor, often with new populist challengers on the scene.

As co-editors of a new book, Why the left loses, with our colleagues we wanted to uncover what was behind the apparent decline in the left, and also add to the wider literature. Although the snapshot which we provide hardly paints a picture of a social democracy in rude health, we are united in our belief that an essential element in any robust democracy is an effective centre-left. As Sheri Berman states in her contribution, “The decline of the centre-left has hurt Western democracy”.

Yet, social democracy has no divine right to exist; on the contrary, centre-left parties must be tireless in their efforts to convince electorates that they remain relevant to their day-to-day concerns, and it is little consolation that electorates don’t appear to care much for other political families either.

As the late Peter Mair chillingly observed in the opening lines of his posthumous Ruling the Void, “The age of party democracy has passed. Although the parties themselves remain, they have become so disconnected from the wider society, and pursue a form of competition that is so lacking in meaning, that they no longer seem capable of sustaining democracy in its present form.”

What’s driving this downward trajectory? Institutionally, many of the centre-left parties face a fragmenting party system with new and emergent challengers, (UKIP, Podemos, the Swedish Democrats, the AfD in Germany, etc). The centre-left then becomes squeezed from both left and right. Changing electoral sociology means that the major parties suffer from class and party de-alignment. In many cases, the changing economic structures have eroded traditional centre-left support, and the parties have been unable to build enough support from other groups.

And what of agency and leadership? In many cases, some of the recent crop of centre-left leaders have not been up to the task. Moreover, much of the longstanding literature on social democracy tends to downplay the role of leadership, but in a more personalised, social-media driven environment, effective leadership is harder to deliver.

Ideationally, we tend to find that the centre-left has not really moved on from the ‘third way’ formula of the 1990s and 2000s. Commonly associated with Anthony Giddens, the third way was an attempt to renew social democracy, but also critique ‘old’ social democracy and neo-liberalism. Since the third way heyday, the centre-left has struggled to find a new ideational formula. In the UK, Ed Miliband played with ideas of ‘predistribution’, ‘Blue Labour’, ‘One Nation’ and so on. This ideational restlessness perhaps reflects the ongoing struggle for the centre-left to re-state its purpose in the 21st Century.

Until these wider issues are grappled with, the risk is that the centre-left will keep on losing.

About the authors:

Rob ManwaringFlinders University
Rob Manwaring is a senior lecturer at Flinders University, in South Australia. He researches into the areas of labour and social democratic politics, comparative politics, political parties, and democracy.

Paul KennedyUniversity Bath
Paul Kennedy is Lecturer in Spanish and European Studies at the University of Bath.

 

Why the left loses edited by Rob Manwaring and Paul Kennedy is available with 20% discount on the Policy Press website. Order here for just £19.99.

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

A new kind of democracy: anti-politics and the funnelling of frustration

matt flinders

Matt Flinders

By Matt Flinders, Founding Director of the Sir Bernard Crick Centre for the Public Understanding of Politics, University of Sheffield

This post was originally published on The Conversation on 12 June 2017.

“It’s not easy being a professor of politics. Everyone expects me to know what’s going on and what’s going to happen. But I’m just as bamboozled as everyone else by the outcome of the UK’s recent general election.

“Bamboozlement” has become something of a byword for modern democratic events. Think Brexit, think Donald Trump, and now think “Corbyn the conqueror” – the unlikely cult hero leading an “old” political party re-designated as a grassroots social movement.

“…the unlikely cult hero leading an “old” political party re-designated as a grassroots social movement.”

To some extent, recent events in the UK are symptomatic of a broader international trend that is often (but incorrectly) labelled as anti-political sentiment. But high levels of social frustration and political disengagement among large sections of the public actually veils a desire for a different kind of politics – not the denial or rejection of democratic politics itself.

It is this that explains the growth of populist nationalism (on both the right and left) in Europe and the United States. It also helps explain what happened on June 8 2017.

The success of Jeremy Corbyn and his “New-Old” Labour party was that it tapped into and funnelled the large reservoir of social frustration with politics. Corbyn offered a very different type of politics, both in terms of content (a clear shift to the left of higher taxes and nationalisation) and form (against the clean-cut image of “professional politicians”). Corbyn’s rather chaotic and almost amateurish approach came across as refreshingly honest. Never before have a scruffy beard and an untucked shirt become such electoral assets.

If you are anti-political (against how politics generally works), if you are anti-politician (against politicians who all look and behave the same), and if you are anti-establishment (in terms of believing in the existence of a largely untouchable political elite), then the Labour party under Corbyn positioned itself like a political lightning-rod to channel those frustrations.

This is the key point that many of his opponents failed to understand. The more the media attacked and mocked him, the more Theresa May refused to engage, the more Boris Johnson described the Labour leader as a “benign herbivore” and a “mutton-headed mugwump” the more this seemed to energise and build Corbyn’s support base. It simply confirmed in the minds of the disaffected just how brash and arrogant the political elite had become.

Funnelling frustration and offering a positive message formed the magic formula for the Labour Party’s glorious defeat. It tuned into the populist signal.

The critical element, however, which offers a key to understanding contemporary democracy, was the manner in which the Labour party secured the support of at least three very different segments of the previously disillusioned or disengaged.

The first segment was the traditionally anti-political youth (aged 18-24) who were dismissed as “snowflake voters” who would melt away before getting to the polling booth. The pollsters were wrong. (Again.). Around 72% of younger voters ended up placing their crosses on the ballot paper (up from just 44% in 2015).

Many young people are still angry about the EU referendum vote and joined a second section of the public who were, put simply, anti-hard Brexit. This included remainers and soft-Brexiteers, but the common denominator was deep-seated concern about the increasingly belligerent, nationalist and aggressive tone of the Conservative Party.

This in turn leads to the third and final group – the white working classes, the “left behind”, who rejected mainstream politics and led “the revolt on the right” seen in the popularity of UKIP in 2015. The simple fact seems to be that a large proportion of the “left behind” went back to the left. They chose to support an anti-austerity agenda and investment in public services above the anti-immigrant anti-Europe stance offered by the Conservatives.

The times they are a-changin’

It seems then, in this bamboozling aftermath of June 8, that the public is not anti-political. They are “pro-political” but also “pro-a-different-way-of-doing-politics”. They crave the existence of real policy choices and a positive vision for the future.

As I argue in my new book, What Kind of Democracy is This?, the concept of democracy is in flux, and arguably more fragile than at any point in the last 50 years. Politicians need to be popular, but this is different to falling into the trap of populism (the very opposite of democratic politics). Populists tend to offer simple solutions to complex problems, generally by blaming “the problem” on a specific section of society (immigrants, foreigners, gypsies …), and then arguing that if we “the people” could only get rid of the cumbersome safeguards of democracy, life would be so much easier.

“Politicians need to be popular, but this is different to falling into the trap of populism.”

“Let the people govern” is a phrase often used to veil the imposition of centralised and unaccountable structures. Democracy has to have limits, but populists tend to deny this basic fact.

For many, Brexit, President Trump, and Corbyn’s 40% vote share have come as a series of political surprises. The rules of the political game have changed but nobody seems to know quite what they are anymore.

We need a new language of politics in order to fully grasp what kind of democracy this is. The language of left or right, for or against, in or out is the language of simple binaries or zero sum games. It no longer reflects a changing world of multiple and overlapping loyalties and identities. Most of all we need a language of politics that rejects the dominant politics of pessimism and offers in its place a bold new vision of collective action and self belief – a new politics of optimism to underpin a new kind of democracy.

 

What kind of democracy is this [FC]You can pre-order What kind of democracy is this? by Matt Flinders here for just £15.99.

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Featured image: ‘Jeremy Corbyn campaign in West Kirby‘ by Andy Mlah is licensed under CC BY 2.0

It doesn’t have to be like this: Why capitalism needs to change, and fast

Where has capitalism gone wrong? In Too much stuff, Kozo Yamamura upends conventional capitalist wisdom to provide a new approach. Read about his new perspective on capitalism’s “sickness.”

kozo_portrait

Kozo Yamamura 1934 – 2017

Over the past three decades, the financial and environmental prospects of the UK, US, Japan and Europe, have slowly but surely been moving in a calamitous direction because of ill-conceived “easy money” policies pursued by those in power, from governments and banks through to multinational corporations and the advertising industry.

The result: a self-perpetuating cycle of stagnating economies, social unrest and political upheaval.

The advanced economies of the world are sick and democracy is floundering. Capitalism as we know it has created a climate where extremist, anti-EU political parties are flourishing by tapping into widespread dissatisfaction with the way things are.

They’re right in one sense – the system does need to change, because if it doesn’t, “what becomes the issue will not be the survival of our system, but the survival of our civilizations”.

“The advanced economies are sick, and the environment is getting sicker.”

Continue reading ‘It doesn’t have to be like this: Why capitalism needs to change, and fast’

22 reasons to vote #imvotingbecause #GE2015 #whyvote

With hours to go until Polling Stations close and constituency level polling indicating that this is going to be a close run thing in many areas across the country, your vote can really make a difference. So if you haven’t voted yet here are 22 reasons why you might want to go and make your mark NOW!

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The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blogpost authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

A response to the European and UK local elections by Alison Shaw, Director of Policy Press

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When I set up Policy Press it was because I was passionate about social issues.  I felt strongly that we needed to fight for a fairer society, one that looked after all its citizens regardless of their wealth and background; race, ethnicity or faith; gender, age or (dis)abilities; regardless of whether they lived in England or Ethiopia.

Our authors are the experts on how to achieve that goal, from understanding the challenges at a theoretical level through to how to implement policy and practice on the ground, and until today, I have been delighted to let them do the talking.  But following the recent results in the UK local and European elections I am moved to join the conversation and speak out.

This weekend we have seen again the rise of the extreme right in politics, both in the UK and across Europe.  This move appears to be a response to a range of factors – a belief that the European Union is inefficient and has too much control over nation state policies; a fear that immigration is a threat to jobs, security and culture; and an understandable anxiety for many as the global recession continues to take its toll.

It may be that the European Union as an institution is in need of reform, but we have to remember why we have a Union.  Initially a post-World War II settlement, it was a means for ensuring cooperation to avoid future conflict.  More recently it has been more about power and global influence in response to the rise of the emerging economies of China, India and Brazil – but the initial  collaborative intent must not be forgotten.

My fear is that, if we remain silent, then things we take for granted like the belief in equality and fairness will be lost and things we don’t think possible, will happen.  Our authors’ thoughtful writing has helped me to contemplate many of these issues and the three books below stand out for me.

ImageThe UK Government’s response to the global recession was an ‘Austerity’ drive, cutting back spending dramatically, especially to the welfare budget. This has hit those already in challenging circumstances in a devastating way.  Mary O’Hara, a journalist and Fulbright Scholar spent a year travelling the UK interviewing those facing hardship and those supporting them.  Her eloquent, insightful book Austerity Bites, published today, provides first hand testimony of what it is like to be struggling –  not to have enough to feed your family despite working your hardest in low paid, insecure jobs.

When we feel our security is challenged, one response is to fight back.  When we feel threatened we can look around for those that are different to blame.  Perhaps this points to why we are facing an increasing tide of anti-immigration rhetoric.  The headlines in some of the UK tabloid papers have been shocking: “We must stop the migrant invasion” Daily Express, “4,000 foreign murderers and rapists we can’t throw out” Daily Mail or “How Romanian criminals terrorise our streets” Daily Express.

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Malcolm Dean, previously Social Affairs Editor for the Guardian, looked at how the media influences and manipulates public opinion and the effect this has on politics and policy in his highly praised book Democracy under Attack.  It provides perhaps one possible answer to how and why we have seen the French National Front, the Dutch Freedom Party and the UK Independence Party (UKiP) gaining such traction in the recent elections.

Image Dimitris Ballas, of Sheffield University and Danny Dorling and Ben Hennig of Oxford University have created the first European Social Atlas and it  analyses social and political Europe in detail.  This beautifully produced book shows in clear graphic form that Europe is a blend of cultures, languages, traditions, landscapes and ideologies that are often not bound by state or regional borders.  The social atlas of Europe is “an insightful look at today’s Europe” (Robert Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley) and will be published on 25 June. It shows Europe and the Europeans in an entirely new light and highlights why we should be, working together, not pulling apart.

The recurrent struggle for real democracy

Policy & Politics coverby Gary Bridge, Alex Marsh and David Sweeting, University of Bristol

The right to the city: the struggle for democracy in the urban public realm by Mark Purcell is available to download free during September.

In a lucid and compelling contribution to Policy & Politics, Mark Purcell confronts the progressive liberal line of those who warn of the dangers of austerity and urge the (re)instatement of a welfare state. He argues that while a conventional liberal-democratic state may be more desirable than a neo-liberal state, they both fall far short of what we can and ought to imagine democratic society to be. Drawing on the work of French intellectual Lefebvre, Purcell outlines for citizens a state of ‘autogestion’ – a process and struggle where citizens both individually and collectively take control. They take control not to cede power to oligarchical state institutions or powerful state actors, but instead to co-ordinate in leaderless, non-hierarchical groups analogous to rhizomes – ‘centreless assemblages in which any point or individual can connect to any other’.

As Purcell points out, this idea is not some abstract utopian notion of human organisation, but instead a recurrent feature of co-ordinated and democratic behaviour occurring spontaneously around the world in 2011, in sites such as Tahir Square in Cairo, Puerta del Sol in Madrid, Syntagma Square in Athens, and Zuccotti Park in New York. Rather than ‘lamenting these revelations as a failure’, we should, according to Purcell, ‘narrate the exhilaration that participant after participant reported having felt as they refused to be ruled and took on the challenge of ruling themselves… it is that joy and delight in discovering democracy and urban society that we must help to grow and spread’.

Purcell focuses on the urban public realm to develop his analysis, and his article is available free of charge in September. His is one of five contributions to the current themed issue of Policy & Politics (Volume 41, number 3, July 2013,) on ‘reconfiguring the local public realm’. This collection of papers aims to advance our understanding of local and urban governance and democracy through theoretical and empirical exploration of matters such as social movements, political participation, and institutional formation. Contributions are international, taking in global North and South, and are located both in theoretical literature and empirical analysis. Alongside Purcell’s contribution is a detailed empirical analysis of urban activism in Madrid by Andres Walliser; an examination of the potential of participatory forms of governance such as those found in Brazil to proliferate in the global south by Jeremy Seekings; a consideration of the relationships between state and civil society in Norway by Jacob Aars and Dag Arne Christensen; and, in a contribution that very much contrasts with Purcell’s, a consideration of the need on democratic grounds for powerful local government by Colin Copus, Melvin Wingfield, and David Sweeting.

Download Mark Purcell’s article here (free during September). Find out more about Policy & Politics at http://www.policypress.co.uk/journals_pap.asp


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