Red tide rising … red tide rising … or not? In Europe, the Left has had a phenomenal weekend, with Nicolas Sarkozy and the UMP losing the French presidency to M. Hollande, the so-called “Mr Normal”, while in Greece the centrist, former leftist PASOK party looks set to be replaced by Syriza, “the coalition of the radical left” as second party, with a likely vote of 17% to PASOK’s 13%.
In the UK, Tories and Lib-Dems faced a lashing in local elections, the latter losing more than 50% of seats up for grabs (about a third of all local council seats), the Tories doing not much better and Labour scarfing up nearly 500 new seats.
Indeed it was such a good innings that another solid win was barely noticed — the near defeat of the CDU in the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, with the Social Democrats gaining 29% to the CDU’s 30%. What was of greater importance was the collapse of the Free Democrats, the neo-liberal junior partner in the Merkel coalition — they fell from 14% to 8.5%, while votes shifted leftwards — 14% to the Greens, 8% to the Pirates, and a solid showing for Die Linke, the left party.
The only real disappointment to the Left was in the London mayoral race, where Boris Johnson inched ahead to see off Ken Livingstone. Even here, the results were flat and frankly worrying for the Tories. A month ago, Johnson had been polling up to 10% ahead of Livingstone. In the end he was taken to preferences, and lost by less than 3%.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
The triple whammy — in France, Germany and Greece — means that things must change in Europe. Hollande is a centrist within his own party, which is a fairly centrist outfit itself, but he was pushed leftwards by the campaign of Jean-Luc Melenchon’s United Left, which forced him to propose a 75% tax rate on very large incomes, and a raft of other commitments to public utilities.
Perhaps of greater importance, Hollande’s victory breaks up the Merkozy alliance, just at the time when Merkel herself is coming under pressure from the left (electorally) and from the Right, within her own coalition. I doubt very much that Hollande is going to repudiate the whole neo-liberal structure of the EU superstate, but I doubt also that the sado-conservatism that has been imposed on the European south will continue to be applied.
That is all the more so, because there may now be no partner for the imposition of such in the Greek government. The centre-right New Democracy party will likely get the largest single vote with around 21%, but that is a pitiful result, and leaves it scratching for a majority. Even with PASOK at 13%, and LAOS (an Orthodox rightist party) at 8% it would be scratching. That leaves it with the option of gaining interim support from a gaggle of independents, with a short shelf life — and this presumes that PASOK itself will not now simply dissolve further.
Alternatively, a left coalition could be put together of Syriza, PASOK, the Democratic Left (8%), another two small parties, and some independents — although more fractured such a group might have a better chance of stability. The big hole in everything is the KKE, the Communist Party, which will get the same 8.5% and that has promised to never join a coalition to administer capitalism. However for some matters — such as the repudiation of the latest austerity deal — its vote could be gained.
The only shadow is the 8% polling by “Golden Dawn” an out-and-out fascist group with a violent history — meanwhile in the UK, by contrast, the BNP lost its last remaining four local council seats. It is now represented only, inevitably, in the European Parliament.
So do we break out the Bolshevik Bollinger? Yes and no. It must be remembered that in large parts of Europe, a version of the left social contract has never gone away. For all the talk of Europe turning right over the past decade, much has been left in place. Sarkozy was elected as the purest version of the man who would overturn this — he thrilled and outraged France by lauding American energy in the 2007 election campaign. And then?
Well he did very little, ducking the fight to reconstruct statist French society as soon as it was opposed by unions and social movements. Then he got into gimmicks, Holocaust memorialisation, etc, (he had a scheme that every French child would “adopt” a victim of the Holocaust, which, down the line, would certainly have benefited one French industry — adult psychotherapy).
Then he married Carla Bruni, became a notorious publicity hog, and by 2011 the only thing that kept him from the role of Europe’s clown was the continued presence of Silvio Berlusconi. In his black tie and his ’50s hair, with his model girlfriend, and a bad case of short-arse syndrome, he couldn’t decide whether he wanted to be Charles de Gaulle or Serge Gainsbourg. He will have plenty of time to think about it now.
Unlike some more eeyore-ish comrades, I’m not going to look these results in the mouth — Europe is repudiating the myth of neo-liberalism — something it only took to at weariness of the compromise and lassitude of the mainstream social democrat parties. Those have now gained from a leftward movement, but the greater gains have been to the left of them — and if they try to now move to the centre and resume business-as-usual, I suspect there will be hell to pay. In either case, those so trained in the dialectic that they can seek out defeat anywhere should take the weekend off, wave the scarf and drain a glass. Marchons! Marchons!