Britain’s Labour Party may be in the doldrums as it contemplates a second decade in opposition but across the Channel its sister parties are doing really rather well.
The latest centre-left leader to have topped an election is Jonas Gahr Støere, whose Norwegian Labour Party has ousted Norway’s centre-right-led government.
He now joins the social democratic prime ministers of Sweden, Denmark and Finland to give the Nordic left a clean sweep. Further south in Europe, the socialists run Spain and Portugal. If opinion polls are right, the next chancellor of Germany will be the social democratic Olof Scholz.
In Italy, the democratic left has key ministers of defence, health, employment and culture in the government headed by the technocrats’ technocrat, Mario Draghi, former president of the European Central Bank.
Even in the Swiss cabinet – the Federal Council – the star member is the French-speaking socialist Alain Berset, 49.
It seems like only yesterday English academics were hailing the rise of nationalist populist parties in Europe based on hostility to Muslim immigration and the European Union.
They are still around but the paradox of the last decade beginning with the financial crisis and ending with the Covid pandemic is that the European left has come back to life.
Few in France think that Emmanuel Macron can be beaten by a tired Marine Le Pen. Nor will Macron be beaten by any of the six left-wing candidates now on parade – but in the National Assembly elections that follow the French presidential election, voters may let Macron have the Elysée but then go on to elect a centre-left cum green majority of deputies to form the next French government.
Three reasons explain this resurgence. Firstly, the pandemic and the need to do “whatever it takes” to stop it destroying economies has resurrected the Keynesian state as essential to deal with the crisis.
The nostrums of fiscal orthodoxy, cutting public services, pay, and pensions in the name of austerity policies all associated with Europe’s centre-right politicians, now seem quaint in their wrong-headedness.
Secondly, the necessary decisions to tackle the climate crisis are not on offer from the right other than a token lip-service. Re-electing pro-car, pro-roads, pro-oil industry Christian democratic conservatives no longer makes sense.
Thirdly, the election of a pro-union believer in big government like Joe Biden and defeat of nationalist Donald Trump has boosted the European centre-left’s morale and confidence.
But this political left is pro-business and prepared to be very tough on immigration from outside Europe. The new Norwegian prime minister, a millionaire, makes Tory Blair look closer to Jeremy Corbyn, such are his pro-free market credentials.
In addition, the Nordic and German unions keep out of politics and support a friendly government rather than dictate to it.
It is not clear Labour in Britain is ready to learn any lessons from Europe – a word banned from today’s Labour lexicon. But the facts are clear. The left can win power if it chooses to adapt.
Denis MacShane is a former minister of Europe and Labour MP. His latest book ‘Must Labour Always Lose?’ is published by Claret Press