With a litany of recent and upcoming elections across European nations, the continent seems to be increasingly divided along ideological lines, with various political struggles consolidating themselves in the financial arena, resulting in a growing struggle between progressive monetary policy, and regressive right-wing monetary policy. The schism between European powers has not been so wide since the birth of the USSR, even if the countries in play this time are vastly different.
On the left-handed side of things, the progressive policy is evidently a human reaction to gross inequality. Citizens of countries like Greece and Spain are overtly adopting oppositional measures to austerity programmes, while to a lesser extent the citizens of countries like the UK are slowly but surely turning the tide on right-wing monetarism. This may seem like a peculiar time to compare the UK – whose voters recently gave the right-wing Tories another term – with Greece, but anti-austerity collectives such as the SNP and the Green Party are making unprecedented gains there, given the failure of the Labour Party (traditionally left-wing) to represent progressives and stand up to the scourge of austerity.
On the right-handed side of things you have regressive conservatism in action, in the misnomer called neoliberalism. This is the Conservative Party of the UK, Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats in Germany, and pretty much every mainstream party in France. The right-handeds among us believe in gutting the welfare state to various degrees in order to force economic growth, something they believe is an absolute cure-all for society’s ills.
The UK is the most interesting case, given that a shift to the left seems to be slowly appearing, or at the least, a shift away from the two-party domination. The reason why the UK has not reached the Spanish or Greek level of rebellion is two-ply: In part, places like Greece and Spain are not strangulated by winner-takes-all electoral systems, meaning that the progressives (who are usually outnumbered by reactionaries) actually have a chance to change people’s minds. Proportional representation in these countries does away with questions of viability for smaller left-wing parties, meaning that as long as they have some moderate support, representation in the legislature is all but assured. This allows them to “get their foot in the door”, as it were, and prove their mettle.
Conversely in England, the Green Party needs approximately 1,157,000 votes for every single MP, while large parties like the Conservatives only need around 34,000 votes per MP. Under proportional representation, there would be 25 Green Party MPs in Parliament right now, a victory beyond measure for a party that can barely squeeze past the doors of Westminster.
But it would be an overstatement to lay the blame entirely with the electoral system. Although the UK has the crippling levels of poverty and social stagnation required for a political do-over, the spark needed to ignite this peaceful revolution seems to be missing, at least in the few millions of voters who truly decide the election. The two main parties, Labour and the Tories, may be haemorrhaging votes to smaller parties with each passing election, but by and large their base remains steady. This is in stark opposition to Greece, where the dominant parties were outright rejected by even their most steadfast supporters in the last general election.
A similar pattern to the Greek phenomena is now emerging, with the newly-formed Podemos party which works with left-wing organizations and independent candidates and wishes to see full representative democracy return to vote. Podemos is Eurosceptic from the left, meaning that it has issue with its monetary policy, not its immigration policy. Ironic, considering Spain’s immigrant population has risen far more than the UK’s. Perhaps Spanish voters actually focus on the real issue; Finance. Podemos wish to see Spain’s debt burden reduced along with the vice-like grip of the “austerity for prosperity” mantra.
A similar pattern to the Greek phenomenon is now emerging in Spain, where one in three children live in poverty, one in four have dropped out of school, and where the unemployment rage lulls around the 25% mark. Spain, like Greece, was promised a bright future if it enacted the EU’s neoliberal reforms, but these have only worsened living conditions and eroded social safety nets. Podemos, a left-wing party just under 18 months old, garnered 8% of the vote in Spain’s last EU elections, and in the recent municipal elections, seized control of ten city councils that had been dominated by the main parties.
Podemos aside, communists like Manuela Carmena, now Mayor of Madrid, and anti-eviction activists like Ada Colau, now Mayor of Barcelona, are filling up the political ranks with each passing election. With a general election in December, Spain’s political future hasn’t been this unpredictable since the fall of the Franco dictatorship, and it is all down to the malice of neoliberalism which forced countries like Spain to undo decades of progress in order to make more money for those at the top of the food chain.
So there are roughly two conditions not yet met in the UK to bring about desperately needed social change. The first, the lack of proportional representation, is clearly stifling our chances because it forces left-wing activists to shamefully vote for what they call the “least worst” party with a chance of winning, even though that “least worst” party is Labour, which for all intents and purposes has entirely abandoned its progressive roots in favour of low-fat neoliberalism.
The second condition, mass mobilization of activists, is not particularly missing, given that over 150,000 protesters recently took to the streets of London to air their discontent with austerity measures. But, conversely, around 88% of voters in the last general election opted for a party whose manifesto called for some form of austerity.
In the end, it seems that a complicit media elite combined with a charismatic message of economic success are to blame for the UK’s failure to turn to progressivism. The media does not particularly hold the current government to account in any meaningful way, and questions of rising child poverty barely enter the ten o’clock news. Couple this with a Tory party that is, while despicable, extremely charismatic and on-message, and there is really no hope for broad change. Most voters do not spend hours and days researching manifestos,- instead being sucked in by buzz words and tails of a bright future.
The Tories have failed to bring the deficit down, which was a central promise in return for gutting public services, but their insistence that the “long-term economic plan” has brought jobs and undone the damage of the recession were enough to convince frightened voters. The Tories were also consistently on-message about the failings of their opposition, even though the recession was by and large out of any politician’s control from the very beginning. Telling a lie that people want to hear is far more effective than telling a truth nobody cares about.
Therefore, until the progressives shout as loud and as well as the reactionaries, and we get the electoral system we deserve, it seems we are doomed to a financial system of mediocrity and poverty.