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Learning from Europe: the future of the British Left

The most important outcome of the Bradford West by-election is undoubtedly the rejection of the 3 main political parties who secured the support of only 40% of the electors. This increasing disaffection with conventional politics, with the Labour-Tory share of the votes down from 97% in the 1951 election to just 65% in 2010, was accentuated in Bradford West by the very high proportion of Asians in the electorate (38%), the still raw wounds in the Muslim population about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the very significant revolt among the younger Asian generation against being told how to vote by their elders (bradreeism).

But that cannot conceal that disgust at the Westminster establishment (the expenses scandal, the continued uncovering of sleaze of which quarter million pound dinners with Cameron are only the latest awful example) and distrust of the two main parties (the rise of the SNP, Cameron’s failure to win even against Brown) are widespread and growing. And these are revealing signs of the direction in which politics is going from Europe:

  • In France the most arresting shift of opinion in the Presidential election is the rise and rise of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Front de Gauche. Now standing at 15% in the polls and rising, this Left Front has now passed both the regularly recurring centrist candidate François Bayrou and the neo-fascist Front National led by Marine Le Pen. If so, the Left will have a decisive influence on the second-round shoot-out between Hollande and Sarkozy, both with around 28% of the vote at present.
  • In Germany, the Left (Die Linke), which broke from the Social Democrats when the former SPD leader, Oskar Lafontaine walked out of the Schroeder cabinet a decade ago, has steadily increased its polling to 12% today and still rising.

Mélenchon’s programme in France stresses workers’ rights, controlling the banks, ecological planning, boosting the UN, resisting US hegemony, and repudiation of the EU in its present form, all of which would strike chords in the UK. His attacks on the Far Right have been vitriolic and effective, and his rejection of the social democrats and their leader (as useful as the captain of a pedalo) has been scathing.

No such developments are likely in any way soon in the UK, but the growing demand for an alternative to the failed and stale consensus is becoming irresistible. One symptom of that frustration was the riots of August last year, and another was the Occupy movement with its cry of anger of the 99% against the despised 1% elite. Nor is this confined to the fringes. Trade union indignation at the fact that all three parties have given support to neoliberal capitalism, the Iraq war, privatisation, and Thatcher’s suppression of employee rights substantially deepens and widens that frustration. If a serious rupture is to be avoided in British politics, a powerful and radical alternative way forward to what is being offered at the moment has to be promoted by the Labour party – and soon.

One Comment

  1. Peter Rowlands says:

    It is not just in France and Germany that the left is making progress. In Finland, Greece, Portugal, the Netherlands and Denmark parties of the left, sometimes alongside Green parties have done well. This contrasts with the miniscule vote and almost complete lack of representation by the left here.The reason is our electoral system, which discriminates against smaller parties. We can only have a British ‘Die Linke’ when we gain PR.

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