The decline of the Spain’s Socialist Workers’ Party is, of course, part of a broader story. In Germany, the Social Democrats are polling around historic lows, as are the French Socialists under their unpopular president. Pasok has turned into a splinter group in the Greek parliament. In the UK, meanwhile, the venerable Labour party has undergone something of a reverse takeover, and is currently led by a politician who spent his entire career on the party’s leftist fringe. With few exceptions — Italy being the most obvious — the European centre-left finds itself in the midst of a long and painful retreat.
Spain offers a textbook example of the travails that have befallen the centre-left. Call it a crisis of representation. Call it a capitulation to neoliberalism. Call it horribly unfair. The fact is that in Spain and elsewhere in Europe, voters have come to associate the centre-left with many of the (unpopular) policies traditionally championed by the right: austerity, deregulation, liberalisation, free trade.
[The centre-left’s core voters] saw — rightly or wrongly — that the party of the welfare state, of the public sector and of the blue-collar worker had turned its back on all three. They saw their jobs disappear by the millions, and yet there was no one around to even articulate their fear and their anger and their frustration.
Socialist leaders thought they were simply bowing to reality. But along the way they left millions of core supporters without a voice.
Australia too, with the rise of the Greens to the left of the Labor Party, taking a large fraction of the vote that previously went to Labor. The lesson in all this might be that when the center-left parties get realistic they lose the votes of the far left. Realism and policies that appeal to the far left are not compatible.