The Centre, the Left and UK local elections

Written By: - Date published: 11:18 am, May 4th, 2018 - 14 comments
Categories: class war, conservative party, elections, International, labour, Left, liberalism, political parties, Politics, social democracy, the praiseworthy and the pitiful, uk politics - Tags: , ,

For some years now, parties of the left in government have done the work of the right. Such is the way of a world gripped by Liberalism. But now, with Liberalism’s ascendancy on the wane, the fallout for parties of the left that did the work of the right during years of Liberal dominance, is annihilation at the ballot box.

Where no reasonable opposition to Liberalism exists; where the centre holds (such as NZ), notionally left wing parties that essentially do the work of the right (“fiscal responsibility” anyone?) can still scrape into government.

Elsewhere, the rout of the UK Labour Party in Scotland (24% of the vote and a loss of 40 of their 41 seats in 2015) is reflected in the tanking of the SPD in Germany (20 % of the vote and the loss of 40 seats in 2017), the SP in France ( 7.5% of the vote and a loss of 249 seats in 2017), the Labour Party in Norway (27% of the vote in 2017 and the lowest seat count since 1924)… the list goes on. Some of the observable declines in parties traditionally associated with the social democratic left are long term rather than precipitous.

But always they are losing out to parties running on platforms that are not at all accommodating to Liberalism – often to parties that espouse politics aligned with the very social democracy the established social democratic parties jettisoned in favour of a “third way” positioning during the period of Liberalism.

And of course, aside from the chauvinistic right wing , there are various pretenders and opportunists like Trump, Trudeau, Macron…

UK Labour is interesting because it has executed a volte-face with Jeremy Corbyn as leader, such that UK Labour bears little or no resemblance to the UK Labour Party of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown or Ed Miliband. And it’s reaping electoral benefits as a result.

If in 2015 Labour was dead in the water in Scotland,  it’s now a serious challenge to SNP dominance (Oh, to have the choice between two left leaning social democratic parties at the ballot box!)

In England and Wales, despite a constant stream of negative press coverage, the Labour Party not only came close in the 2017 General Election*, but has continued to build and strengthen since. That’s why today’s local body elections (live results page here) throughout England and Wales are interesting. Unlike here, local elections are run along party lines in the UK. As such, they are a very good indication of “the lie of the land”. (Maybe a little bit like US mid term elections in that regard.)

My suspicion is, that like a glacier, the political centre around the world is holding…holding…holding…

..and then “Day 17”.


*there’s an argument to be had that it was the campaign against the SNP by Scottish Labour under “Blairite” Dugdale that cost Labour the 2017 UK election by opening a gap for the Tories to snatch their best electoral result in Scotland since 1983 (+12 on their previous result)

14 comments on “The Centre, the Left and UK local elections”

  1. ScottGN 1

    Not a lot for Labour to get excited about so far…?

    • Bill 1.1

      I think you may be mis-understanding.

      This isn’t about landslides or major up sets across the board.

      These local body elections might be usefully held up for comparison against the fortunes of centre left political parties who still cleave to Liberalism and that I’ve supplied some numbers for.

      • ScottGN 1.1.1

        I don’t think I am mis-understanding.
        I see the BBC is reporting that Labour will hold onto Sheffield despite them losing seats in the wake of a row about tree-felling around the city.
        I’m not sure these very local elections (and it’s only England voting) are going to do much to bolster your argument.

        • Bill

          As I’ve replied to Ad below. These local elections across a swathe of England (there should have been no reference to Wales out in the post) confirms the presence of a viable social democratic left in the UK.

          And think for a second on the endless negative headlines and stories that swirl around UK Labour – from charges of being antisemitic to being Russian stooges or ‘in bed’ with terrorism, to weak, incapable and indecisive …day after week after month.

          And yet…

  2. Tony Veitch (not etc) 2

    Don’t you mean Gordon Brown, Bill?

  3. Ad 3

    The decline of the hard left in Europe is only partially attributable to the successful rise of the monetarist right (and now ethnic right).

    That decline in support is as much a fault of the left itself.

    The twentieth-century left’s narrative of the progressive and redistributive state rested precariously upon the conceit that “we” – reformers, Socialists, Communists, radicals – had History on our side: that our projects, in the words of the late Bernard Williams, were “being cheered on by the universe.”

    We still see that tired old righteousness when the next minority human rights story rears into the media. There’s no coherence to any of it, just a set of emoji buttons to push.

    Today we – either hard or centre left – have no such reassuring story to tell. That narrative absence is the discursive decline of the broad left to replace the narrative of the previous century.

    Only 18 years ago we barely survived a century of hard left statist doctrines purporting with alarming confidence to tell us what the state should do to remind individuals – forcibly if necessary – that the state knows what is good for them.

    There is no returning to all of that. And there is no new plan either.

    Here in New Zealand, in what you describe as centrism, Labour is popular because it has got both the policy and leadership and narrative mix right. UK Labour should pop over and figure out why they should learn from the Antipodes, not vice versa.

    • Bill 3.1

      NZ Labour took the “third way” baton from the UK and ran hard with it. (Clark’s government) They’re still running.

      Meanwhile, all across the western sphere, Liberalism is being rejected by the electorate. Sometimes that rejection has arguably been at the pain of making a self injurious choice.

      Any party traditionally associated with the left (accurately or otherwise) that hasn’t woken up to what’s going on, is getting hammered at the polls as soon as an alternative pops up.

      Those numbers for traditional centre left parties in the post aren’t made up Ad.

      And if you think left thought rests on the idea of a state, then you have a very warped or narrow idea of what left is.

      • Ad 3.1.1

        I have a pretty consistent view of the left Bill; it’s the left’s failure of imagination since the decline of the Soviet Union that is more to blame as much as it is the rise of the different versions of the right. Nothing to do with your definitions of how “liberal” or “liberalism” is defined from half a world away.

        Corbyn has nothing to teach us. He should sit down at our feet as we tell him what political success looks like. Including how to win elections and change a country for good.

        The results from the UK local elections today show that Theresa May has emerged entirely unscathed, Corbyn has launched no great gamechanger, and any “radical” project on either left or right continues to fail in the UK.

        The lesson to learn is that your version of centrism is actually best.

        • Bill

          There was no “gamechanger” envisaged Ad – just confirmation that the game has changed and that a Social Democratic iteration of “left” has been established UK wide (the SNP obviously only cover Scotland).

          Nothing by way of “radical” in any of it.

          The Soviet Union was a failure of imagination by far too many a very long time ago. And that lack persisted through generations. As I’ve recounted before, there were only very small parties of celebration when the people of the USSR broke their chains and left the dungeon. Most of those in ‘the west’ who had said they were “left” suddenly “went to ground” or discovered that, really, they had been supportive of capitalism all along and started singing its praises.

          Liberalism and Social Democracy are merely different caretaker systems for capitalism. But one prioritises people and general well-being to a degree, and puts “the market” on a leash – so, y’know, much less bowing to market dictates like “fiscal responsibility” for example.

          Day 17 will be along presently 🙂

  4. ScottGN 4

    The Lib Dems seem to have had the best of it though of course they’re coming back from a low base. Corbyn and May have essentially checkmated each other. And neither looks like appealing to enough voters to ensure a General Election victory.

  5. Pat 5

    Polarisation is problematic….the centre may well be on the wane but the system is still neo-liberal….the first to take the plunge opens themselves up to martyrdom…unless of course its one of major economies that flips first.

  6. SPC 6

    In the UK, a Liberal Democrat Labour coalition is in the wings (shared position on Europe) and if they enact electoral reform the days of Tory government may well end.

    The LD would the appropriate place for Blairite faction to move towards or otherwise they form their own minor party with electoral reform.

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