· As of this week, parties on the ‘moderate left’ neither head the governments nor lead the opposition in either the UK, Germany, Italy or France – something that has not happened in peacetime for 100 years.
· In Italy, in two and a half years, the Italian Democratic Party has gone from being the party of government to a party with perhaps less than 20% of the vote while in France, the moderate Socialist Party in 2017 went from holding the Presidency to winning less than 7% of the vote in the Presidential Election that year.
· In the Netherlands, the Dutch Labour Party lost 80% of their parliamentary seats in their parliamentary election, and in Spain, support for their centre-left party had fallen by half in the last 10 years. In Germany, the opposition is now the hard-right AFD.
· In Britain, our opposition Labour Party was no longer a ‘moderate left’ party as it was being led by ‘Corbyn extremists’ and that the moderates within the party would have no easy task winning over the party again
Hague thus argues that this constitutes the ‘death of the moderate left in Europe’ and that the radicals on both the left and right are the beneficiaries of all this, which of course they are.
But perhaps most interestingly of all, is how he views and explains this development. His argument is that the leading cause was that its leaders became too far detached from their core support, particularly on issues such as immigration, support for closer political union and their response to the Recession, which he argues differed little from the Centre-Right.
He also points to other, more long-term changes, such as the decline of trade-unions, of ‘class-based loyalty’, the welfare state getting to big, along with the end of the Cold War giving the hard left more respectability.
But most interesting of all, perhaps, is that, even as a conservative, he views this all as very bad news - with likely outcomes either being that centre-right parties stagnate in never-ending power, or that nationalist and populist parties will come to power and introduce abrupt changes to national policy.
He thus argues that it is up to the moderate left to get back in tune with the people, by, for example, rejecting uncontrolled immigration, arguing that otherwise, either Centre-right parties and ‘Macron look-alikes’ will get there first, or populists and nationalists will continue to ‘march all over them.’
My own thoughts
Certainly, there is no doubt that politically, we are living in ‘interesting times’, what with Brexit and Trump and the rise of nationalism across the west. And certainly, the current collapse of traditional Centre-left parties in Europe has been quite spectacular.
But is it without precedent? On this scale, quite possibly, but at all in history? No. In the past 100 years, there have been many examples of centre-left politics being pushed out of the picture.
The history of the Weimar Republic was essentially that of the ‘Weimar Coalition’ of the three Centre-Left parties losing ground to the extremes. Another example, although no comparison of course, is that of the collapse of the Labour Party in Scotland over the past decade.
In Poland, the centre-left party whose predecessor held the Presidency in the 1990s, now has no seats in the Sejm, while in Ireland, both major parties are vaguely right-of-centre, with the Irish Labour Party having only once been the second largest party in the Dail.
But even in countries with strong centre-left traditions like the UK or Germany, you will notice that the centre-left is much more often in opposition than in power. Just count the number of Conservative PMs against Labour PMs in twentieth century Britain and you will see what I mean. The same is true for Post-WW2 Germany.
So there certainly have always been some long-term weaknesses, but one weakness that I feel has grown over time is this:
Populists vs Technocrats and the Centre-Left
On his website, The State of Wales, Welsh political analyst, Owen Donovan, has argued that political parties and movements can be largely grouped into two characteristics: Populist and Technocratic.
If you’re a populist, you appeal more to the raw emotions of the people, whereas if you are a technocrat, you are more intellectually inclined.
My theory is this - that originally, it was the traditional centre-left parties that were firmly on the populist side, being working-class parties and all, and with the centre-right parties being of the elite, but that over time, the tables have turned, and the centre-left has become increasingly ‘intellectual’ seeming and technocratic.
Now, in some ways, the right has always had the populist advantage – particularly when it comes to nationalism, for example, – it has, by definition, been more jingoistic than the left, and thus has appealed to popular passion in that particular area.
However, over time, the traditional left-wing parties have lost their populist/emotional advantage in other areas, such as in class-based politics and themselves become seen as ‘out-of-touch intellectual middle class’ while their traditional weaknesses, such as seeming economically illiterate, or worse, unpatriotic, have not gone away, or in fact been exacerbated.
Whether the European centre-left will recover, and what the consequences will be if they don’t, however remain to be seen, and I certainly won’t try to speculate now.