Why the Left Is Losing

Why the Left Is Losing, by Eric Kaufmann.

The mainstream Left is in serious trouble in the West. In the December 2019 election, the UK’s Labour Party was trounced by Boris Johnson’s Conservatives 365-203 in seats, and 44-32 percent in the popular vote. This was the worst result for Labour since 1935.

Yet, as Matthew Goodwin recently noted on Twitter, the most recent election was also the worst result ever for the French Socialist Party of Benoît Hamon, and for the Left in Italy and the Netherlands. It was the second-worst performance since 1949 for the German Social Democrats, the worst finish for the Austrian Social Democrats since 1945, and the worst for the Finnish socialists since 1962. In Sweden, the Social Democrats sunk to their lowest level since 1908. This is more than a coincidence.

Cultural realignment:

Underlying the trend is a wider realignment of politics away from the economic conflicts of the 20th century toward the cultural battles of the 21st. Instead of just talking about state redistribution versus free markets, elections increasingly revolve around questions of immigration, national identity, and domestic security. This disadvantages the Left. …

Left-wing parties cannot move to the vote-rich zone of most electorates where the median voter — typically somewhat conservative on culture and centre-left on economics — resides. Conservatives can do so more easily as they are less beholden to libertarian economic orthodoxy than left-wing parties are to progressive cultural values.

Identity politics and multiculturalism are central motivating forces for the highly-educated activists who have dominated left-wing parties since the ’68 generation rose to prominence. These ideas tend to be considerably less popular than the Left’s economic offer, hence the bind the Left finds itself in.

Political correctness makes the left unelectable:

Political correctness functions as an emergent system that can push new ideas even when few people actually believe in them. Like the emperor’s new clothes, no one dares violate a taboo which may cost them dearly.

Like the emperor’s new clothes, politically-correct fantasies are punctured eventually. But have they served their purpose in the meantime?

To be blunt, left-wing political correctness is more powerful than the right-wing variant.

For instance, many social conservatives may dislike environmentalist candidates in their ranks, but dissidents on the left of a conservative party won’t have their character questioned and reputation trashed.

By contrast, a left-wing politician who moves right on culture — calling for lower immigration or abolishing female-only shortlists, for instance — is likely to be accused of racism or sexism by radical online activists. This causes them intense embarrassment and, by triggering a social taboo, may lead others to pile on them to signal virtue. This can damage a person’s reputation well beyond politics. Something of this fate has befallen the patriotic leftists of Blue Labour in the UK, who are no longer welcome in Labour circles. Brexit-supporting Paul Embery, for instance, was kicked out of the Fire Brigades Union for criticizing the union’s position on Brexit. This, they alleged, made him an accomplice of the “nationalist Right” and thus a “disgrace to the traditions of the Labour movement.” No wonder few on the Left are willing to move right on culture. …

Until the left wins via demographics:

It appears left-wing parties in countries undergoing demographic change face a dilemma. Move right on immigration and risk alienating your activists, or tack left and lose elections.

But if the left cannot import enough new voters, they will lose forever — or they will have to back down on the whole identity politics project.