Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Unhappy Political Families

I've agreed to write a regular column on European politics for The American Prospect. Here's the first. Suggestions for future columns are welcome.


brent said...

Congrats on your new gig, Art. Since your scope is now Europe and not just France, I will be curious to read about the EU and all the pressures on it that are mounting. Brexit for sure, and the 'Frexit' someone recently invoked, perhaps exaggerating the rise of the FN. But also the new governments in Portugal and Spain, and Syriza, and even Italy where Renzi is making dissenting noises about the Brussels/Frankfurt/Berlin axis: Is there a left populist insurgency in the works within the EU? Alongside the right populist one in Poland, Hungary, other eastern countries, and FN-style parties in the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden ...

In short, Is the ever closer union on its last legs? That should keep you busy for a few columns at least. Meanwhile, best wishes for the new year.

FrédéricLN said...

A great paper, congratulations! You highlight and articulate the most meaningful moments of the eight last years in French party-politics, while many commenters either forgot or under-weighted many of them (hmm, this "while…" is a fuzzy assertion. I leave it to readers to appreciate).

As a matter of fact, not many (West-)European parties show any sign of deep internal change. The last meaningful changes I can remember were the creation of the Partito Democratico in Italy (with most of the Communists, dropping this ideology) in 2007 — and formerly, in 1988 in Great Britain, the merger of the Liberal Party and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) into the Lib Dems — but none of both parties had been ruling the country since couples of years.

Change actually consists in the rise of new parties and the fall of the obsolete ones. Center-European countries provide a number of examples, esp. Poland.

Second thought: the creation of UMP in 2007, with the major party of the right, RPR, absorbing most of the center-right conglomerate UDF, was a serious change. It answered to the electoral domination of PS over PCF since 1981. Each of the two sides would be represented by one major party, "as in the largest democracies" (understand: as in only one case abroad, namely in the USA, a federation of States)… So the unavoidable mavericks would become powerless. The freeze of the party-political machine would be granted. And it was. Paving the way for FN as the only opportunity (at the present moment) to push the incumbents out.

Bert said...

Frederic, greetings from the UK.
Picking up a couple of points from your post:

From the end of the war until 2010, Britain was ruled by majority governments from the two dominant parties, alternating in power. After 2010 the LibDems were in government for five years, as part of a coalition. Their reward in May 2015 for this taste of power alongside the Tories: near-extinction. The biggest change recently is that the Labour party no longer sees itself as a party of government. How long that holiday will last is unclear. Some bloodletting may be required before normal service is resumed.

FrédéricLN said...

Hi Bert, from across the English Channel ;-)

My comment was fuzzy indeed. The emergence of Tony Blair's "New Labour" around 1994 provides a valid example of change from within a major (occasionally ruling) party. I understand Jeremy Corbyn's election as head of the Labour as an "exit mark" from the New Labour era. I supported David Miliband's agenda at the times when he was a frontbencher, and I'm sure he can be be back within 2 or 3 years; but I wonder how far this agenda is elaborated and rooted with the Labour party. I doubt it is that different from the Lib Dems'.

SDP and Liberals merging was not that significant maybe; it was understood as a forced move as none of both parties between Tories and Labour could win alone: the center had to merge in order to hold. But in France, just the opposite happened: the center exploded (many times) into several parts becoming satellites of the ruling parties of the right or the left (recently UDI and UDE). While our voting systems are not that different (FPTP for general elections, PR for local elections).

Bert said...

If I could be as sharp as that about French politics I think I'd be doing well.
The SDP is an interesting case when you look at the state of today's Labour party. The left is strong in the mass membership, and has vastly strengthened its position since the election. The right is still dominant in the parliamentary party but is now stuck in an attritional struggle with Corbyn and a relatively small group of leftists clustered around his leadership. In the early 80's, in a roughly similar position, the SDP was a breakaway group of senior figures from the right of the party. Their conscious aim was to "break the mould of British politics" - a phrase which became a cliché. In the end though they ran adrift on the centre ground in exactly the way you describe.

The LibDems managed to survive and to an extent prosper on the centre ground by being all things to all people. Lots of campaigning on local issues; lots of picking up protest votes. The two main parties don't agree on much, but they both hate the LibDems as opportunists and hypocrites. By the end of the New Labour governments, LibDem general positioning was if anything slightly to the left of Labour. Joining the Tories in government was a mistake - that's obvious in retrospect, but plenty of people called it in real time. Their current parliamentary party would fit in a 2CV.

Apologies for this red herring from outre-manche.

Bert said...

By the way, I seem to remember an occasion when there was PR for the National Assembly elections. Part of a machiavellian scheme by Francois Mitterrand to split the right to his own advantage, am I remembering that correctly? The outcome was the first big breakthrough for the Front National.

FrédéricLN said...

You remember very correctly ! ;-) The "traditional right" (RPR+UDF) had only a relative majority of 261/533. But the left did not vote with the FN. The right could take approximately all decisions it intended to. Especially in re-establishin FPTP. Which resulted in… an absolute majority for the left in 1988 (but not for the PS alone).

We were talking on British politics, and I understand your point on the Lib Dems "joining the Tories". I nevertheless think that they had no other option. That's the worry in being in the center (Ciudadanos meets the same pressure now, but has more options). Left+Center did not reach 50% of seats ( ). And I think a pure-Tory minority government (that not many, if any, advocated then) would have been worse for the UK. And would not have helped the Lib Dems at the next general elections. But that are "ifs"!