By Joe Montero
Europe’s slide into political instability continues and at this point it is Germany, France and the United Kingdom that are leading the way.
Fresh out of a regional election, where the Cristian Democrats and especially the Social Democrats, suffered a major electoral backlash, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that she will not be leading the Christian Democrats into the next election.
This is what happened. The tendency for electors to abandon the main parties went up another level. The middle ground is falling out, and the winners have been the Greens, the Left Party and the ultra right Alternative for Germany. The country’s political polarised s becoming entrenched.
France differs in that only last year Emmanuel Macron swept in to the Prime ministership, on a wave of revulsion against Frances’s own main political parties. It was the Socialists who suffered the most. Macron promised to be different to the traditional politicians. He has failed to deliver. His star and that of his political party, Republic on the Move, are now on the wane.
Efforts to impose austerity and cuts to Frances’s working conditions, plus an autocratic style, have fueled a wave of strikes and rising opposition from all quarters. He has the Jean Luc Melanchon led Unsubmissive France breathing down his neck, and National Rally on the other.
In contrast, there is the Jeremy Corbyn phenomenon in Britain, which unlike its counterparts on the continent, has given new life to the Labour Party. It is creating a movement based on grass roots participation, striking a chord with many and generating a new level of activism. There is the growing Peoples Assembly movement, seeking to raise grassroots democracy and playing a pivotal role in providing an alternative politics.
This too is a mark of the disintegration of traditional politics. On the other hand, so has the rise of the UK Independence Party.
There is an important lesson here.
In the current political and economic climate, those that cling on to old positions that represented the social democratic movement through much of the twentieth century have little to offer. Being on the same path as the traditional conservative parties, hobnobbing at the big end of town and taking up policies that are only marginally distinguishable from their political rivals, is not as good way to win hearts and minds.
Social democratic parties have been eager supporters of neoliberalism and worse. Where they do not recognise this, they are in trouble. Where there is recognition, there is the possibility of moving towards a genuine alternative.
Australia has not been immune from the problem. It was under the watch of the Hawke/Keating governments that the mix of corporatism and neoliberalism made its first appearance. The corporatism bit is, that the unions were locked into a tripartite arrangement with government and employers, where they were always going to lose out and be made to police the process that both undermined their organisation and the workers’ position in Australian society. This set the conditions for the implementation of neoliberalism, the shifting of national income upward. Hawke called it “tightening the belt.” The Coalition then came in and tightened it some more. Consequently, the mood for something different is growing here as well.
Australia is mentioned, because it’s a good example. Some of the European social democratic parties took it further. The British Labour Party under Tony Blair is one. The German Social Democratic Party and the French Socialist Party are others. In Britain, this is being admitted by the Corbyn leadership. In the other two countries, this is not taking place and the support base is shrinking as a result.
Traditional conservative parties are also losing ground in Europe too. Germany’s Christian Democrats have just suffered a blow at the regional election. France’s Republicans are in disarray. Britain’s Conservatives are expected to get a thrashing, when they go to the polls.
The United Kingdom’s Theresa May Conservative government is against the ropes. There is the Brexit mess. But that’s not all. There is the striving of Scotland to break away. This is a largely paralysed government tainted with corruption as well. It is another part of the meltdown of traditional politics.
None of this means that everything is going to suddenly change tomorrow. But it does indicate that an important historical process of global dimensions is underway, which opens up dangers. It also opens up possibilities.