Neoliberal and left. Oil and water.

This morning I saw someone on Twitter share a projection seats for the next French parliament that showed the Socialists were en route to 20-35 seats. That’s a bit of a drop from the 280 they won in 2012, just after Francois Hollande became the Prime Minister. I don’t study French elections so I have no idea if those sorts of swings are normal, but one cannot deny that in a 577-seat chamber, that’s a fucking hammering. In contract, En Marche, the political movement of recently elected centrist Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron, is projected to win 370-something.

I observed this on Twitter as another step in the slow capitulation of what I called the “neoliberal left”. Note, those two words go together. I am not mourning the death of neoliberalism because its death hasn’t happened yet. But as the world moves forward, neoliberalism and the left are becoming apparently less compatible.

A few examples from my own general knowledge (which admittedly is basically Europe and where I am from):

  • Hillary Clinton, a centrist lefty, was beaten by Donald Trump.
  • The British Labour party of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown was thrown out of government in 2010, and then in the following election in 2015 received an absolute pummeling as Ed Miliband tried to balance both wings – the centrist Blairite and more traditional left – and found himself out of a job as the Conservatives did better than the polls suggested, and sailed into the Houses of Parliament with a large majority as Labor lost even more seats.
  • In Spain, this is how the last four elections have gone for the the center-left PSOE: 2008 – 44% with 164 seats. 2011 – 29% with 110 seats. 2015 – 22% with 90 seats. 2016 – 22% with 85 seats.
  • In the Netherlands earlier this year the Dutch Labour Party, which governed with the leading conservative party, fell from 38 seats in a 110-seat chamber to 9, as their vote share went from 25% to 9%.
  • Granted, Greece is a bit of a unique case, but PASOK, the center left party of Greece has seen a decline of vote share from 43% and 160 seats in 2009, to 6% and 17 seats in the 300-seat chamber in 2015. And that’s an improvement upon an earlier election in 2015 when they were on 4% and 13%.
  • In Denmark, which again is a peculiar case because coalitions of very small parties, the 2015 elections saw the removal of a left minority government (even though the largest party’s seat share increased) that had overseen the sale of public entities and passed a tax cut for the wealthy.
  • Labor in Australia went from a majority government in 2007 (83 seats) to a minority government in 2010 (72 seats) to opposition in 2013 (55 seats). They have scrambled back some seats but remain in opposition as of the 2016 election.
  • In South Africa the center-left African National Congress received a pummeling at the 2016 local elections where it lost control of most of South Africa’s major cities. Comparing local elections to local elections in 2011, the party fell from an overall vote of 61% to 53%. In the 2014 general election the party received 62% of the vote. Comparing apples with apples, the party fell 8 points. Comparing apples with oranges, it fell 9 points.

There may be students of comparative politics who know more about this than I do. But at face value, left-leaning neoliberal parties are seemingly not having a great run of it. In one party (South Africa) and two-party democracies (US, Australia), the vote share remains high because of a lack of democratic maturation, or because there are only two options. In coalition governments across Europe, center left parties are being hammered. The one exception to the European rule could perhaps be the British Labour Party that is contesting an election right now, led by someone who is certainly not a neoliberal, Jeremy Corbyn, which looks to be increasing its voteshare according to polls, although we will only see whether that is the case next week.

Neoliberalism may not be dead (eg. En Marche). But its presence on the left is not being treated with enthusiasm.


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