The Finnish election results available here are the final nail in the Greek coffin and are a lesson for the so-called anti-austerity parties throughout Europe. The core of the next Government will likely come from the rural and small town Centre Party and the less pleasant Finns’ Party, formerly True Finns. The Prime Minister elect Juha Sipilä, a devout Lutheran, of the type more at home in the Gospel Halls of Ballymena, decisively defeated the outgoing Prime Minister and his National Coalition Party. Sinn Féin’s allies, the Left Alliance did badly losing two seats, leaving them with just twelve seats and as a fringe group in the new Eduskunta .
The Finnish Social Democrats also did badly losing eight of their forty-two seats and ending up in fourth place from second last time round. They are just one more social democratic party, which has been bypassed by historical developments. Even the once all powerful Swedish Social Democrats are just clinging to power, a shadow of their former selves.
However the recent Scandinavian results reflect a long decline in the left throughout Europe. The Table below shows the decline over the past thirty (approximately) in the four continental Scandinavian states. In some cases there has been very slight gains by fringe parties but the net losses are in all cases substantial.
|*SKDL & DV in 1987|
|SF & RG*||15.9||14.2||increase|
|* Not purely left|
The current Greek Government have declaimed their right to be heard based on their mandate. However in reality, the European mandate is with the Right and has been for many years. The Greek position can be compared with the Spartans led by Leonidas at the Battle of Thermopylae or alternatively a recalcitrant group, rejecting the views of the majority. However even in Greece,there has been a decline in the Left vote, even if the deckchairs on the Greek Titanic have been shifted.
This is a year of elections in Europe. Apart from the UK & Finland, Estonia has already voted, there are elections in Poland, where the various right-wing and centre-right parties will achieve at least 85% of the popular vote, Denmark, where the Danish Social Democrats are doing a passable imitation of UKIP, which is unlikely to be enough to keep them in power & of course Spain & Portugal.
The question is why have European electorates generally turned to the Right for answers? Even in the UK, the combined Conservative, UKIP, Liberal Democrat vote is consistently in 54-57% range, though the UK may yet get a centre-left Government, even without the Protestant (NI) Nationalism of the DUP & UUP. So why has the Left declined so dramatically, throughout Europe?
The Marxist geographer and anthropologist David Harvey provides a reasonable explanation for the demise in Social Democracy, explaining that the conditions which created such parties no longer exist and that they have failed to reinvent themselves. So-called left and centre-left groups now seem to spend their time campaigning not on economic issues, rather on individualist “rights” based issues, where they are indistinguishable from economically right-wing Liberals. When they raise economic issues, it is not from the perspective of production or participation in the economy or society, rather emphasising an entitlement to consume. One no longer hears about collective ownership, and even the backbone of the Irish Living Wage campaign are sections of the Catholic Church. The Left seem unable to discuss the development of the economy in terms of production or work.
A former leader of the Norwegian Socialist Left Party, Erik Solheim, pointed ironically to the difficulty of arguing for socialism in one of the richest countries in the world. This is at least part of the problem, many ordinary workers are well off and have little desire to share it. The strength of opposition to providing any support to the Italian “Mare Nostrum” operation, particularly from the UK reflected accurately public ambivalence to the drowning.
Both the SDLP and Sinn Féin claim allegiance to the broader Social Democratic or Socialist family. But looking at their manifestos, the SDLP emphasises “creating the conditions” for others to create employment. It does not see a direct State role in investing and creating business activity. The Sinn Féin manifesto is a long whine at the “Tories” for not giving Northern Ireland more money, which is ironic considering their intention not to participate, if elected, in the UK Parliament. There is a complete disconnect within the Sinn Féin document between production,i.e. creating the resources to be consumed and consumption. Consumption is separate and a right, blaming someone else if the resources are not provided.
It is all very dispiriting, but not surprising.