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Europe: Political swings and roundabouts

My eye was caught by a tweet from SF author David Brin, linking to a map of political shifts in European governments generated by the Guardian during the summer. Brin's comment was that it showed a "Solid shift to the right", no doubt struck by the preponderance of blue on the map at the end of the timeline with only four countries - Denmark, Austria, Slovenia and Cyprus - out of 27 marked in red. (Note for American readers - for most of the world, blue means right-wing and red means left-wing, rather than the other way round.)

While it's a fascinating visualisation, the whole thing is of course a profound and not always helpful simplification. In some countries (including Belgium), dominant parties tagged by the Guardian as right-wing are in fact pretty centrist, believing in social cohesion and strong welfare systems, just without the historical or ideological baggage that parties with the word 'socialist' or 'social democrat' in the name may have; the stark blue/red distinction is not really appropriate. In some cases (Austria in particular) there may have been a strong left-wing party in a junior coalition role at various times, but the Guardian's colour scheme would paint the whole country blue. In some cases (not to give any recent examples), one can seriously question whether a supposedly left-wing party actually behaves that way when in government.

Be that as it may, I don't think Brin's "solid shift to the right" is really correct. At the very start of the timeline, 1972, only one of the original six members of the EEC is marked in red (Germany). Throughout 1980, of the then nine member states, only two (Germany and Denmark) are marked in red. From mid-1987 to early 1988, it's only two out of twelve (Spain and Greece). The map for today includes also technical governments in Belgium, Italy and Greece, so the tally for the right is really 20 out of 27, which is proportionally less than 1987's 10 out of 12, or 1980's 7 out of 9, or 1972's 5 out of 6.

Probably the reason it looks so striking is that none of the red countries of today is big; and also for the casual viewer, today's map contrasts more recently with that of 1999, when 10 out of 15 member states had leftish governments (the exceptions, apart from Spain, being small and/or marginal - Ireland, Finland, Belgium and Luxembourg). So while Brin does have a point in suggesting that the left are at a historically weak point in EU politics right now, and that's certainly true if compared with twelve years ago, it's not really the first time that this is the case.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 26th, 2011 10:32 am (UTC)
I do wonder how much of it is the natural cycling of politics, for instance Blair and Schroeder were elected on a wave of 'new politics, new left wing, new way', and they, in turn, were swept away by a wave of 'safe pair of hands, new right wing, new way'. I'd be amazed if in 10 years time it wasn't the other way round.
Nov. 26th, 2011 01:24 pm (UTC)
Isn't it much more an anti-incumbency thing rather than an ideological shift? I'd expect, say, Italy to notionally shift left this time,f ro example, but that'll be because the left's untainted with the current mess rather than a strong belief one way or t'other.
Nov. 26th, 2011 04:14 pm (UTC)
Indeed, and Sarcozi in France is unlikely to survive the next election there, leading to a leftward shift on the map.

Was there some general point DB was trying to make about a shift to the right in Europe?
Nov. 26th, 2011 07:16 pm (UTC)
I find the notion that new Labour was left of centre highly dubious. I would characterise them as whiggish, which for Blair's time in office at least was true of all three English parties. There hasn't been a significant left of centre party in England since the '80s, (though one could certainly make a case for the SNP and PC and maybe Scottish Labour). In fact one could make a good argument that the Liberal Democrats were nearer to the centre than Labour during that era, though clearly they have also effectively moved further to the right in government.
Nov. 28th, 2011 02:26 pm (UTC)
From Northern Ireland, admittedly distant from mainland politics, New Labour seemed pretty much Conservative lite. PFIs need I say more?
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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