Thursday, November 23, 2006

Labour and Socialists

There doesn't seem to have been much discussion of the Dutch election results, which is a shame because there are probably more lessons for us from them than from the American elections earlier this month. Labour lost a lot of support to the Socialist Party, a far right anti-immigration party won nine seats despite immigration being less of a big deal than four years ago, and the final result is a big mess with no obvious coalition possible (a Christian Democrat-Labour-Socialist coalition has been suggested). What this means for the Netherlands, I don't know, but there are interesting parallels relevant to our own political scene.

I think it is a great strength of the Labour Party in Britain that it contains as members and supporters a much wider range of people than the sister parties in Germany, Netherlands or France. In Germany, for example, leftish 'urban intellectuals' and students tend to be in a separate party from the trade unions, and they campaign separately against each other in elections. It would be a shame to see the Labour Party split in this way, even if the electoral system didn't penalise splits as it does.

Voters who think that the Dutch Labour Party, or the SPD in Germany, betrayed traditional left-wing principles, or were angry about welfare reform or globalisation switched to the Socialist Party or the Greens and PDS. The French tried the same trick and ended up with a run off between Chirac and Le Pen.

This is a useful reminder that the challenges that we face in trying to regain support are not uniquely the fault of New Labour and that there are plenty of European governments with much more unpleasant policies on the issues of social security spending or immigration. Looking at the effect of these challenges on the parties which formed the other left-wing governments in Europe in 1998 shows how impressive an achievement it actually has been for Labour to remain in power in Britain over the past nine years.

But for Labour to retain power at the next election, we need to find a better solution than the SPD or the Dutch Labour Party has managed at keeping the support of people who are attracted by calls for a return to a more traditional left-wing programme and an abandonment of neo-liberal reforms. Even without the alternative of another viable political party, we already know that we can lose to the Tories if people who have supported us in the past don't choose to go and vote.

At a minimum, this will mean reflecting the diversity of the Labour coalition in government priorities and policies. No one faction within the party has a monopoly of good ideas, and we will need spokespeople and policies capable of appealing to all of the different groups of people whose support we need to win.


At 4:04 pm , Blogger wozza said...

The reason we and the USA have "broad church" parties is because of our electoral systems.

With our twin first past the post systems it is very difficult for any new parties to form and obtain electoral success that 7-10% in a PR system would denote.

If there was a "socialist" party, a "liberal" party, a "center left" and "center right" party and a "far right" party - along with the greens and communists i think you would see both LAbour and the Tories becoming very much less broad church parties if not dissapearing completely.

There would be a similar situation in the USA, there would be a leftish party, many conservative parties and a couple of broadly centerist parties.

I class myself as a "labour" person - but if there was a socialist candidate with a chance of winning i would vote for them.

We are at the stage where all major parties in FPTP systems are broad church marriages of convenience - there are many people willing to put up with aspects of the New-Labour programme in order to have the minimum wage and extra health spending for example.


At 5:33 pm , Blogger el tom said...

Great point Don.


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