As many will know, there was a very significant election in Hungary on Sunday. The hard-right Fidesz party of Viktor Orbán, which is distinguished by Islamophobia and Euroscepticism, won a decisive victory. The extreme right-wing Jobbik party finished second! I am still rather reeling from Twitter skirmishes with supporters of Orbán, who make Momentum partisans look like kittens, but have sufficiently recovered to make three points about the election:
1/ In Hungary and Poland, hard-right parties such as Fidesz and PiS dominate the political landscape; both movements poll over 40%. Though Cas Mudde today wrote in the Guardian that parties such as Fidesz represent the past, I am not so sure. Such parties offer voters improvement in living and working conditions (this is often ignored by commentators) and well-defined enemies. As unpalatable as this second element may be, this is a highly potent mix in an era in which people are concerned about globalization. In the medium-term, I expect these parties to dominate in the Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) region.
2/ It is also notable that Fidesz and PiS attract lots of lower income voters. Though the CEE context is very distinct, I remain concerned that such a trend will become more apparent in Western Europe. Unfortunately, the mix of economic security and enemies is an appealing one for those on lower incomes. In the UK, Vote Leave attracted such voters with this strategy in last year’s Brexit campaign. I feel that this trend still has legs in the UK and, particularly with Corbyn as leader, suspect that lower income voters will continue to desert the Labour Party. The beneficiaries of this trend, not necessarily the Conservative Party, remain to be seen.
3/ The 2015 decision of Angela Merkel to open borders to refugees continues to look extremely foolhardy. Even if it can be argued that the decision was an ethical one, it was an extremely bad political one. Most Western Europeans remain unaware, but this policy has turned much of Central and Eastern Europe against the EU/Germany. This was a major issue in the Hungarian election and Polish bitterness over the 2015 decision continues to amaze me. Levels of discontent can only be compared with Southern European unhappiness with austerity. Many of Merkel’s Hungarian and Polish critics may well be bigots, yet good political decisions must also take into account different political realities; the 2015 decision did not do this.
I try to use this blog to look at current affairs from a slightly different perspective. In today’s post, I consider the prospects of the Corbyn Labour Party on the basis of polling data in other European countries. Such analysis suggests that the potential of the Corbyn Labour Party to win an election/govern without major constraints is overstated.
Why is this the case? It is for the simple reason that, across the continent, support for the ‘new-left’ movements which are equivalent to the Corbyn-wing of the Labour Party is pretty limited. New-left parties, which should be contrasted with established centre-left parties, poll well under 20% across Europe. In Spain, despite a deep crisis which is only just ending, support for Podemos is only around 15%. In Central and Eastern Europe, all left-wing parties have become marginalized. In countries such as Germany and France, particularly comparable to the UK, new-left parties such as Die Linke and La France Insoumise poll at less than 15%. This has meant that new-left parties are excluded from government in these countries, even in contexts in which centre-left parties are prepared to cooperate with them. There are admittedly exceptions in Greece and Portugal, yet these contexts are somewhat anomalous and the performance of the new-left is not overwhelming.
Why does this matter? It matters because winds tend to blow the same way across Europe. In the 1990s/early 2000s, during which New Labour dominated politically, support for centre-left parties was therefore at the 40% mark in a series of European countries. This allowed Blair/Schröder/Zapatero etc. Governments to implement transformative agendas. In 2017 the Corbyn Labour Party managed to unify various wings of the Labour Party and achieve a respectable election result, yet the data above suggest that there are limits to the Corbyn support base. If there were a Proportional Representation (PR) system in Britain and a purely Corbynite party were operating within it, I suspect that such a party would poll around 15%. If Labour moderates had their own party in such a system, this party would likely poll around the same.
The obvious response is that the UK political system, which is based on First Past the Post (FPTP), is different to most other European countries. This allows movements with more marginal appeal to dominate government – a prime example is the Thatcher-wing of the Conservative Party in the 1980s – yet such groupings need allies who are somewhat sympathetic to their aims. This is not the case in the present Labour Party. Even if the Corbyn leadership manages to hold together the broad coalition which fought the 2017 election, which is a big ‘if’ after recent events, the antipathy of elements of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) suggests that a Corbyn Government would be hamstrung by internal opposition. Evidence moreover indicates that such opposition would be based on the underlying balance of power, rather than Blairite/establishment backstabbing.
This analysis admittedly only gives one part of the picture. I nonetheless think that these are significant points, particularly as the European perspective is often ignored. As ever, comments are welcome.