Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The collapse of the left in Europe

When Barack Obama lands in Europe for his first big international tour this month, the Democratic presidential candidate may be shocked to find himself standing in the middle of a vast, blood-soaked plain littered with the bodies of his political allies.

He will see left-wing parties that have reached their lowest popularity levels in a generation and in most cases have all but slid into non-existence. And it's getting worse. If he becomes president, by the end of 2009 Mr. Obama almost certainly will be the only left-wing leader remaining among the Group of Eight nations and one of only two or three left-leaning heads of state in the Western world. Once again, America will be going it alone.

It is a darkly ironic reversal of fortunes: At the start of the decade, a conservative such as George W. Bush was almost alone in the world; today, the world is being overtaken by conservative leaders - though not necessarily, as we shall see, by their ideas. Ten years ago, Newsweek magazine proclaimed that, "with the exception of Spain, every major country in Western Europe is now run by a left-of-centre party," adding tellingly that "conservative political parties keep winning policy debates and then losing elections." Today, almost the opposite is true. Across Europe, the left is collapsing.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel's left-right coalition government has recently seen its left-wing partner, the Social Democratic Party, fall to its lowest popularity level in 40 years and enter an interminable leadership crisis, allowing Ms. Merkel to govern virtually as a lone conservative. In France, conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy has overseen the unravelling of the Socialist Party, which has lost most of its electable leaders and failed to find any inspiring ideas. In Italy, Romano Prodi's smart but awkward left-wing coalition was bulldozed away in April by Silvio Berlusconi's angry far-right group.

In Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland, social democrats have been swept out of office by conservatives, and even the traditionally left-wing cities of London and Rome have elected right-wing mayors this year. In Norway and Britain, long-standing left-wing parties are plummeting toward defeat. Among the 27 countries of the European Union, Mr. Obama's friends are secure only in Spain, Portugal and Austria, where they can wield little wider influence....

Liberalism is a demonstrable failure. That is why Obama is so reluctant to admit his liberal ideology. He is ashamed of it and knows it will cause his rejection by the voters. Only MoveOn and the Kos Kids are willing to admit their affinity for liberalism. They have both been discredited by their attacks on the war in Iraq and specifically the surge that is winning that war. They remain desperate for defeat in Iraq and see Obama as their best chance for achieving defeat.


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