Just months ago, Spain was convulsed by the M-15 mass movement, which mobilised hundreds of thousands of protestors against the appalling privations facing the nation’s youth. Last weekend, it returned a centre-right government.
That’s not the whole story. The hard left alliance Izquierda Unida doubled its vote to poll 7%, although that is still well below what it was able to achieve in the relative prosperity of the 1990s. Nevertheless, the orthodox – and seemingly commonsensical – proposition that periods of radicalisation tend to see a surge in support for the left is not currently confirmed by events.
Here we are, in the fourth year of what is clearly a capitalist crisis. Yet as rightwing Tory MEP Daniel Hannan rather gloatingly points out, just 3% of the population of the EU live in countries governed by the centre-left.
I can’t be bothered to check his maths, but the calculation looks about right to me. Social democratic parties are running the show in Austria, Cyprus, Denmark and Slovenia, and that’s your lot.
What is apparent is that given the choice between full-on austerity or austerity lite, voters are still opting for the hard stuff. The majority of the population in most countries, Britain included, is not even asking for the impact of cuts to be ameliorated or softened in anyway.
Nor do they buy the argument that austerity is self-defeating, and will ultimately result in deepening downturn rather than recovery. All of us making the case for Plan B find ourselves backed into a corner by the hegemony of free market economic ideas.
The left now has to have the courage of its convictions, intellectually reassured by the belief that our thinking will be proved right in the years ahead.
The question is what moral the Labour front bench will draw from this conjuncture. Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are often portrayed as closet Keynesians. But to the best of my knowledge, they have yet explicitly to repudiate Alistair Darling’s ‘deeper than Thatcher’ outburst before the 2010 general election.
Just so long as austerity looks popular across the continent, the ‘me too’ temptations cannot but stay strong. If Labour gives in, it will leave itself little room for a credible overnight conversion to any other set of ideas as the inevitable recession deepens.
In short, the time to lay the groundwork for a victory in 2014 or 2015 is now, and it will not be achieved by an opportunistic adaptation to the current climate.