In the last few months I have found myself constantly bumping into articles that speak of the dawn of social democracy and with the observation that precisely because of this, we are facing a new conservative (i.e. centre-right) modern age in Europe. I would argue that it is too early to call a clear winner because European political conservatism, championed by centre-right parties throughout the continent, is in fact in deep trouble as well.
Left-leaning authors across Europe are voicing their concern that social democracy is dead, for good. Well, to be honest, I hope they are right! But contrary to what you may think now, my desire rests more on the possibility that maybe this way centre-left parties and their leaders will reconsider their parties’ role and vision for the 21st century and somehow they will try to update their views to an understandable and socially useful level. Of course, most of you know that social democracy stands for a bigger state, social security, free trade, multiculturalism etc. or to put in simple terms, as some neoliberal right-wing bloggers usually do, it worships devilish capitalism which helps multinational companies to run the world. But I would say that there is so much more on the Left that it is insane that only a handful of people thought about making social democracy modern again (like Anthony Giddens with Labour’s Third Way but we know what was the outcome of that), like it was after WWII. As far as I am concerned, after the Second World War social democracy helped us to rebuild our continent from ashes. It created societies where people can learn, grow and earn their way into a more promising feature.
However, in my view, in the last 65 years or so, the European centre-left did not change. That it is why it looks and acts like a wise old grandfather, who knows and understands a lot, but sadly for him and his supporters, he is not familiar with what is going on nowadays anymore. Because of this, left-of-centre parties do not care for today’s generations (especially the young ones), do not care about the economy and do not care about a manageable and cost-effective state; not because they do not want to, but because they cannot as their tenets are not suitable for the 21st century. I should not write this down since it is too obvious, but unless centre-left parties recognise this failure and try to rebuild their stature and message, we are really heading towards a modern conservative era, which would be a pity, because a strong opposition is always needed in a proper democracy.
I feel that the only obstacle which can prevent centre-right parties from ruling Europe in the upcoming decade (or even more) is themselves. Firstly, because social democracy will not recreate itself in a few years time and will not reach a point where it could serve as a credible alternative in the eyes of voters. Secondly, almost everybody hates socialism and social democracy in Europe: just look at election outcomes in the EU in the past 2 years and you will see that destroying socialist parties in recent years has become a regular practice for European voters. Thirdly, there are no charismatic leaders on the centre-left who could energize his/her camp and with it the whole European socialist family.
BUT… to be more precise, I must say that following the work and attitude of centre-right parties, especially in my native Central Europe, I am absolutely astonished by the fact that they are in power and that is why I think right-of-centre parties and their leaders are their own obstacle in maintaining long-term power. Because if everything stays the same in the upcoming years, we will surely talk about the dawn of conservativism in no time.
Bottom of Class Conservativism
I believe, that the biggest problem with European centre-right parties is that they think that they are gaining ground thanks to their policies, but the sad truth is that they are in power only because social democracy in its 2011 form is useless. 4-5 years in the driver’s seat without true leadership and conservative parties in the old continent will find themselves next to the socialist ones. You may ask, of course, why this has to happen? First, like the socialists, the European centre-right does not have leaders. Nicolas Sarkozy from France was a big chance for conservativism but it turned out that he is helpless as a leader and a visionary. Angela Merkel from Germany would have been great if Europe would need a silent technocrat who always suffers when it comes to fast decision-making. Silvio Berlusconi from Italy would have been great, if he would have sticked with leading AC Milan. And there is David Cameron from the UK. Well, he is probably one of the few credible alternatives for the European centre-right but nevertheless, he is still regarded as a big maybe- correctly! Second, the mess we are in nowadays was largely created by socialist parties across Europe, but conservative parties also put in their share, no doubt about that. And third, centre-right parties should modernise themselves and their programme as well, because if they won’t and will carry on formulating disturbing ideas (i.e. regulating and taxing the internet by Nicolas Sarkozy at the G8 summit or shutting-down all nuclear power plants in a populist manner by Angela Merkel) voters will eventually abandon them.
All-in-all, I would say that both centre-left and centre-right parties are in a crisis, the only difference between them is that the latter can correct their mistakes in power while the former, well, they should get their act together as fast as possible or they won’t have a place in a modern Europe.
Áron A. Németh (@AANemeth)