Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Dutch Lessons for the Centre Left

A much-hyped populist-right party with a "charismatic" figurehead and a sideline in racism, where have we heard that story before? Well, across nearly every Western liberal democracy it seems. But in the Netherlands today, the exit polls strongly suggest Geert Wilders' misnamed Freedom Party (PVV) has juddered to a deserved halt. The hype surrounding his person served to boost turn out of anti-Wilders sentiment. Their seat tally is up from 12 to 19, but hardly the lead they were hoping for. Likewise the liberal-leftish Democrats 66 (D66) and the Christian Democrats also move up to 19 while the governing People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD) make for the biggest party with a likely haul of 31 seats. The Green Left also make an advance from minor party status to the big leagues with a possible 16 seats. The checking of Wilders and his rancid politics is welcome (remember, it happened here first), but the other big story is the complete collapse of the PvdA or, for you and me, the Dutch Labour Party.

Going into this election, the PvdA held the second largest number of seats in the Tweede Kamer, or House of Representatives. At 35, it was only outstripped by the VVD at 40, and so governed in a grand coalition of the centre left and centre right. As the junior partner, the PvdA's leader Lodewijk Asscher (pictured) served as Deputy Prime Minister to the VVD's Mark Rutte. And the coalition proved to be problematic for both parties. No sooner was the ink dry on their 2012 agreement, they shared a plunge in poll ratings. The VVD tumbled from around 40% and has mostly languished between 24 and 28 percentage points since. Not good. The PvdA's fall from approximately 38% was even more immediate and spectacular. By late 2013 it sunk to a low of 13%, and on the eve-of-poll were commanding, if that's the right word, under eleven per cent. That will give them nine seats. In short, a complete disaster and shambles.

I know people on the centre left don't want to hear it, but I'm going to spell it out again anyway. The malaise afflicting social democratic and labourist politics isn't a force of nature, it's not that electorates have become massive racists or impatient with the boring, plodding work of parliamentary government. The collapse of PASOK in Greece, the humiliation about to be visited on the Socialist Party in France, the failure of Renzi's referendum in Italy, the dismal performance of the Democrats and blue collar swing to Trump have a common theme. Indeed, the collapse of Scottish Labour and the 2015 evisceration of the Liberal Democrats share it too. All of them, every single one of them, did and were seen to be acting against the interests of their constituencies.

Blair-like Third Way politics might have fooled leaders of class and labour movement-based parties that class and labour movements don't matter any more, but political realities and interests do not respect wonkish delusions. Enacting policies that attack our people, defined broadly as the coalition of voters who are conscious that their interests are best served by returning the centre left, will only break them up. Pushing through cuts, attacking unions, undermining public provision, the promotion of market reforms, all of these policies hurt our people, alienate them, and fracture the bedrock of our support. Our alliance thrives on solidarity. It weakens and splinters under conditions of insecurity. It doesn't take genius to work it out.

Unfortunately for the PvdA, they now join that long list of miserable failures. The very act of going into government with its most bitter opponent was bad enough - imagine a Tory/Labour coalition - but to then sit with them as you deliver a programme of austerity that attacks your own base ... words do not exist to describe such stupidity and recklessness.

27 comments:

Makhno said...

Excellent article, Phil. The short term gains of playing the centre right at their own game have led to an eventual existential disaster for the centre left.

This is the elephant in the room when everyone of the varied shades of left in the UK is obsessed with making it all about how woeful/great Corbyn is.

I tend towards the former view, but so many of those who do have no conception whatsoever as to the wider political issues and think that a return to "safe" Blairism is the only alternative. The Labour leadership is a sideshow (albeit one that needs to end soon). What comes after needs to be a paradigm shift of both policy and strategy.

Chris Rivers said...

"... policies that attack our people, defined broadly as the coalition of voters who are conscious that their interests are best served by returning the centre left, will only break them up. Pushing through cuts, attacking unions, undermining public provision, the promotion of market reforms, all of these policies hurt our people, alienate them, and fracture the bedrock of our support. Our alliance thrives on solidarity. It weakens and splinters under conditions of insecurity. Unfortunately for the PvdA [Dutch Labour Party] they now join that long list of miserable failures. The very act of going into government with its most bitter opponent was bad enough - imagine a Tory/Labour coalition - but to then sit with them as you deliver a programme of austerity that attacks your own base ..."

True. But on the other hand, failing to oppose the Tory Hard Brexit by whipping Labour MPs to back Article 50 did Labour's people no favours whatsoever. That resonates and long and hard.

AJ2 said...

An excellent article indeed and Makhno's response sums up my views perfectly!

ejh said...

Ignoring the specifics here for a moment, don't junior coalition partners frequently get punished at elections?

Jonathan said...

@Chris Rivers Oh yeah but according to Phil that's alright because if we hadn't then UKIP would have wiped us out in the North or something.

John said...

In response to Chris Rivers - Showing you respect a democratic decision does not harm our supporters.

The first 2 Saturdays I campaigned in Stoke I thought it would be very close and was not confident we were doing enough to win. That changed on the 3rd Saturday after it became clear that Corbyn was going to impose a 3 line whip and support the majority decision to leave.

Sure there were some people who were upset, but there were remainers who said 'we lost' 'lets get on with it'. There were also people who voted leave who said 'you're supporting us now so we'll support you'.

Makhno said...

@Chris Rivers

"But on the other hand, failing to oppose the Tory Hard Brexit by whipping Labour MPs to back Article 50 did Labour's people no favours whatsoever."

Well, the fact that the vote was whipped gave those MPs who would have voted that way anyway in fear of their seats an excuse, but seeing as not opposing Brexit was the position of the vast majority of the right of the party as well as Corbyn, it didn't make much of a difference. Full credit to those MPs who defied the whip, however.

But yes, let's make everything about bloody Corbyn AGAIN, and ignore the inconvenient fact that third way social democrat parties throughout Europe are being decimated.

I want Corbyn to resign, but the utter poverty of thought and inspiration from many of those that oppose him makes any post-Corbyn future potentially as worrying as him staying on.

This self-indulgent, internalised Corbyn GOOD/BAD conflict has to end. All elements of the spectrum that is the left have a job to do, and the majority of the loudest voices are signally failing in this endeavour.

Instead of whinging about Corbyn or whinging about attacks on Corbyn, politicians and activists should be pulling their fingers out and developing campaigns, strategies and policies that take the fight to the Tories, who are busy tearing the country to pieces while our backs are turned. There are a number of excellent MPs across the various wings of the Labour party who are doing this, from David Lammy on the notional right to Clive Lewis on the notional left, but there is nowhere near enough of them.

Anonymous said...

Jonathan

You may sneer, but events prove that Labour's decision not to give UKIP an (undeserved) lifeline by trying to overturn the referendum result - and yes, opposing A50 WOULD have been portrayed as that and with some justification - was totally correct.

Indeed, it may turn out to be the masterstroke that finally saw off the "threat" they presented to the Labour heartlands for good.

UKIP is now set to totally implode with the demagogue Banks setting up a new party - which will likely go the way of most such "projects".

On this issue at least, well done Jez.

Speedy said...

But come on Phil, I notice you ignore one of the main reasons the centre-left is imploding - immigration.

It is only immigration that drives:

- Wilders
- Le Pen

(so consider that - the first and second largest support for specifically anti-immigration parties). It was largely immigration that drove Brexit, too. Sorry, nothing to do with "trade unions"! The loss of Renzi was more subtle and the Left is still, just, in the lead in Italy, but with the anti-immigration 5 Star movement at their heels.

People feel culturally threatened. They see their world changing around them and they feel alienated. Oh, I know not sophisticated Lefties who love a kebab, but these ordinary unsophisticated people you go on about. Otherwise, I don't think people are stupid - they see the centre-left is in their interest, with spending on health, education, etc, but get this - they prize their cultural integrity higher. The working class is not on the whole universalist but nationalist, and this is the fundamental dissonance between the Left and the working class, and that is why the Left is disintegrating across Europe.

Chris Rivers said...

Anonymous said - "events prove that Labour's decision not to give UKIP an (undeserved) lifeline by trying to overturn the referendum result ... was totally correct. Indeed, it may turn out to be the masterstroke that finally saw off the "threat" they presented to the Labour heartlands for good."

Such a good 'masterstroke' that Labour lost vote share in Stoke and Copeland and lost a long-held seat to the Tories who are in government ...

The 'masterstroke' was actually a suicide note and the latter losses occurred because Labour lost many of its supporters - 71% of whom still back Remain (see Prof Curtice and British Political Survey).

Labour continues to be at greater risk of losing votes to the pro-remain LibDems than to pro-Brexit Ukip. The LibDems edged up in vote share in both Stoke and Copeland, just as they have done in every by-election since the EU referendum.

On 24 June the Tories were in turmoil, Now, nine months on, they are trouncing Labour which has lost many supporters and members. My local CLP confirms that this is a national picture.

Anonymous said...

And now, right on cue, Speedy arrives to tell us "RACISM IS GOOD".

Other side of the coin to the remoaners, peas in a pod ;)

Anonymous said...

Have to commend the above interventions from Makhno, who is absolutely right that we have to move on from the endless leadership issue and think far more about just where the left is headed; and from Speedy who is surely right about working class anxiety regarding immigration and the cultural impact it has.

Both have made really strong and important points.

Steve

Ben Philliskirk said...

@ Speedy

"they prize their cultural integrity higher"

Cultural integrity my arse.

People have done very little to 'defend' traditional cultures in the British Isles against social, economic, technological and demographic changes. Indeed, in many cases they have welcomed the opportunity to adopt different cultural traits. Objecting to coloured faces, unusual clothing and different languages is prejudice, not defending a nebulous 'culture'.

Makhno said...

Jolly good. You and Progress can make hay harping on about cracking down on immigrants, whilst it makes absolutely no discernible difference to Labour's fortunes, what with the Tories and Ukip and assorted other far rightists having that one sewn up.

Which would leave us with the two major parties making attacking some of the most vulnerable members of our society a major plank of their policy positions, what with "benefit cheats" no longer being flavour of the month, whilst at the same time having no discernible impact on the quality of life of the people of Britain.

There will still be immigrants here, "culture" won't magically become immutable overnight (what with that being utterly impossible), and Labour will haemorrhage those voters who find the party's sudden switch to volkische politics and nationalist mysticism intensely distasteful.

ejh said...

Not sophisticated Lefties who love a kebab

Eh?

Anonymous said...

Chris, I simply refer you to the aftermath of the Stoke result.

It has, quite simply, broken UKIP.

They weren't expecting just to get a piddling little swing from Labour, they were expecting to WIN. And with almost the entire media behind them (not least "liberal" journalists such as the Graun's bigotry correspondent John Harris) who could blame them for such hopes?

Stoke has been their, and Labour's, Stalingrad.

Forward!

Makhno said...

Kebabs are only consumed by the rarefied likes of the mythical Islington Luvvie, natch.

IainF said...

Political parties and movements don't have some divine right to exist and prosper. Lose relevancy and you will go the way of the Dodo.

This article basically nails it.

Speedy said...

Well, as Taylor Swift says, the haters are gonna hate.

Some people still rolling out the old trope "is it coz I's racist" to mention the ten ton elephant of immigration. And deny the working class a sense of identity or culture while you're at it. Funny that the only culture that doesn't exist in multiculturalism is the host.

It's space fairies behind Le Pen and Wilders and Brexit, then. You are Seumus Milne and I claim my little red book.

(re kebabs, I distinctly remember hearing some chap years ago on the radio saying he didn't know what the oiks were complaining about, their food was so awful and now they had so much more choice! Cleaners and nannies, too. A different world, old boy, a different world)

Anonymous said...

Ah yes, the Wilders who has just flopped in the Netherlands. Macron (and I am no fan) will steamroller Panzergirl if that is the final two.

People like you - and fake "liberal" journalists - should stop bigging these monsters up because its "edgy".

(and, of course, because in the final analysis they/you hate socialism far more than they fear fascism - true in the 1930s and just as much so now sadly)

Ben Philliskirk said...

"Some people still rolling out the old trope "is it coz I's racist" to mention the ten ton elephant of immigration. And deny the working class a sense of identity or culture while you're at it. Funny that the only culture that doesn't exist in multiculturalism is the host."

It's funny how many people assume that working-class 'identity or culture' is inherently racist, or indeed struggle to think of any other working-class cultural trait other than hostility to foreigners. Of course, anyone who denies this is clearly middle-class or a metropolitan liberal.

The various working-class cultures that existed in my grandparents' formative years have changed drastically compared to those pertaining now. Very little of that change is due to immigration.

Makhno said...

Classic "accidental Partridge" from Speedy, there.

"Don't go phoning in saying my white nationalist bullshit is racist, it's not".

Speedy said...

Anonymous, I'm sorry, but you are an idiot, and I mean that literally - if you choose to ignore the issue of immigration and how it is impacting on politics today.

I wonder if you even know what socialism is? Certainly its got bugger all to do with immigration, which works to the supreme benefit of capitalists in its present incarnation. But as I was saying, you are an idiot. Literally.

Anonymous said...

Ah, abuse - the sign of someone who has no actual arguments ;)

Ben Philliskirk said...

@ Speedy

"Certainly its got bugger all to do with immigration, which works to the supreme benefit of capitalists in its present incarnation."

Clearly works heavily to the benefit of immigrants, most of whom happen to be working-class.

Still, I'm sure you will be explaining to us what socialism is, before or after you've told us what working-class identity and culture are and why Donald Trump must be the ultimate socialist because he opposes immigration.

Speedy said...

So Anonymous, it's ok to call someone a racist because they point to the uncomfortable facts, but insulting to call them an idiot when they ignore them? I have presented arguments, you have responded with polemics.

This is what denial looks like - i point to the fact that two major rising political forces and Brexit were driven by concerns about mass immigration, and specifically working class anxieties, and I receive nothing but sneers from the "Momentum" crowd - driving Labour right off the cliff.

"Clearly works heavily to the benefit of immigrants, most of whom happen to be working-class." Really, Ben? Do you know any, except the ones who do your cleaning and serve your coffee? Historically, most immigrants were middle class except the Pakistanis who came to work the mills. What you actually mean is that they come to do the working class jobs. But I don't want to lecture you about socialism.

Ben Philliskirk said...

'"Clearly works heavily to the benefit of immigrants, most of whom happen to be working-class." Really, Ben? Do you know any, except the ones who do your cleaning and serve your coffee?'

I've worked with a few. But then everyone who works in a hospital is middle-class, right? I tend to make coffee for me and my partner, but she tends to do most of the cleaning, and as she is Welsh and living in Yorkshire, I suppose she counts as an immigrant....