Sunday, December 15, 2019
How does Labour's electoral performance look in a European context?
It may not be true that former Chinese premier Zhou Enlai, when asked what he thought were the consequences of the French Revolution said that it was “too early to say”, but it has nevertheless passed into legend.
At any event, I am still of the opinion that it is a bit early to rush into over hasty explanations for Labour’s election defeat this week, and before I start thinking about that further I have looked across the English Channel to try to get some perspective on what happened here last week.
So how are the traditional parties of the Centre-Left faring in Western Europe?
The French Socialist Party was slaughtered in elections in 2017, its candidate for President gaining just over six per cent of the vote. This was the same year in which the German Social Democratic Party saw its worst result since the Second World War, with just over twenty per cent of the vote, and the Dutch Labour Party had their worst ever results, losing three quarters of their Parliamentary representation and gaining fewer than six percent of votes cast. The following year, the Italian Democratic Party scored its worst ever result, with less than nineteen per cent of the vote.
Things are better for social democracy in the Iberian peninsula, where the Spanish socialists emerged from an election last month as the largest party, with 120 out of 350 seats in Parliament, having won 28% of the vote, a month after the Portuguese Socialist Party also won national elections – with almost 37% of the vote. In both these countries parties to the left of mainstream social democracy are also represented in Parliament.
Labour’s 32.1% share of the vote on 12 December looks a lot less miserable in comparison with the performance of our Western European sister parties. None of this means that the result in Britain was not catastrophic, but it does mean that our analysis and understanding of our election defeat needs to take into account an international (or perhaps, more specifically, a Western European) context in which the delayed effect of the 2008 economic crash is generally benefiting the populist right and not the social democratic left.