London, 13 August 2019 - It's right to be concerned about populism and rising of far-right across Europe. But this is useless, unless we understand populism as a political behaviour (and not as ideology) and identify the crisis of the left political parties as the deepest crack weakening our political structures, as this lies behind the massive swift of votes towards the right.
Let's start from Italy, the most recent crisis we are witnessing, with far right Lega reaching 36% (Ipsos Mori) and now marching towards snap elections on the rhythm of a populist style electoral beach tour, a way to widen Lega’s consensus by expanding into declining 5Star Movement area of voters. After one year coalition government with populist 5Star, Salvini decided to break the so called ‘contract’ by taking immediate advantage of a lost majority at the Senate: the left opposition PD (Democratic Party) voted in support of the far-right Salvini backing Tav (high speed railway project connecting Italy to France) while, as expected, 5Star who always opposed it, voted against.
But why Italian Dems who had always opposed Tav suddenly changed their minds? The answer is obviously this: they took the chance of the vote to divide the coalition, trigger a government crisis and go to new elections as confirmed by current PD leader Zingaretti. But former PM Matteo Renzi, who leads an influent fringe within the party, came out from the backstage to revive the traditional infighting fractionism of Dems by saying it would be crazy going to snap election before the government set 2020 budget to be discussed within next 19 October.
Beyond the conflicting stances, openness to eventually form a new alliance with 5Star to contrast far-right is cautiously understated: for now, part of PD is winking to populists in a move to block Salvini’s rush to new elections in order to avert a dangerous defeat, as PD only gains a scarce 22% in the polls. The chance on the table therefore would be bringing up a technical government through a new coalition with 5SM, but this option is ruled out by Zingaretti who definitely wants to head to general elections asap, rigorously without any alliance or coalition as he dislikes populist 5Star leader Di Maio; and here it comes the final smash: Renzi threats to split the party.
But let’s not forget a third former Dem leader, Enrico Letta; he is an ex PM too and now comes out of the blue to add up to the lefty mayhem: now leaning on the side of his former enemy Renzi, he warns that a government led by Salvini could drag Italy outside the EU.
The list of fringes could go on if only these represented diverse ideas, political vision, and not just struggle for power among long standing figures preventing any new individual to even have a marginal role in their party politics tragicomedy. And ultimately, they even stare at the tough reality Italians shifted last year from Dems government to a virtual Movement of newcomers and a post fascist: both won by stating Dems only represent a restricted elite.
UK: After one year of expulsions and defections, the Labour party arrives at ten weeks from Brexit deeply divided and with a contested leadership. Now that the ambiguity on the EU exit has been cleared by the fact Corbyn voluntarily did not enable any action or table any no confidence motion aimed at stopping it and now is going to table this probably the first week of September in a very last minute move making both content Labour leavers because of the likely ineffectiveness due to time schedule, and Labour remainers, because at least the party showed they gave a try to stop Brexit.
Corbyn is now going up and down the country meeting communities. The strategy is to survive now that only 18% of voters would support Labour. His leadership has been recently contested in a standoff of MPs within the party not just because of the unclear stances on Brexit, but also because of the non properly tackled alleged antisemitism.
Split is the key word to understand nothing is coordinated and even leadership contenders compete in random order except for the shadow Brexit secretary Keir Starmer, leading political figure close to Corbyn and now ready to replace him with an apparent backing because this would be the option for a continuity and corbynian's fringe survival. Also shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer John McDonnell and MP Yvette Cooper are among the frontrunners. A sparse competition that gives the clear message Labour is under refurbishment.
And that's only what is happening inside the party.
Outside: new formed Change UK alternative left project failed; Labour's voice sounds increasingly feeble while Lib Dem are soaring in the polls to 21% (YouGov) and now under new leadership and the prominent former Labour Chuka Umunna, Liberals do not hesitate to make clear that in case of elections their candidates would stand independently. With general elections potentially few weeks away it's difficult to figure out any left coalition.
Meanwhile Tory PM Boris Johnson is pressing on the accelerator to exit the EU on 31st October right when parliament is in summer recess. Downing Street ordered staff to cancel holidays, therefore now the announced, long overdue, but still not confirmed, no-confidence motion announced by Labour will have to be rushed because government’s move makes clear no-deal operations are speeding up.
Nonetheless Corbyn said parties need to ensure support to the motion and call to new election beforehand. And it’s here that Jez' strategy becomes apparent: if no-confidence motion wins but with no clear alliances, general elections might turn dangerous to Labour and hamper Corbyn’s plans to become Prime Minister, because his own party and a wider coalition, including Lib Dem and Scottish National Party, could not support him.
What is really preventing Labour from pushing towards a no-confidence vote and new elections with all the rush needed is their strategy of projecting tomorrow’s power politics on a context of national emergency dictated by the Brexit. A power politics by which the no-confidence motion must necessarily lead to a Labour government in which coalition partners have no space of manoeuvre.
If, instead, the motion gets a narrow support with no clear backing coalition and Tories will ask general elections (as they are planning to do after Oct 31st), this would leave both Labour fringes (pro and against Corbyn) and the wider opposition a margin to rebalance, giving way to Corbyn’s opponents; at that point he might risk losing his leadership.
What is relevant is the fact Brexit is not the cause or the consequence either of Labour defiance, but only the broken mirror reflecting the irreconcilable fragments of what is left of the British political system we have known until now.
The looking glass started cracking with Blair’s lies on Iraq war, then lost peaces when Gordon Brown was blamed for the Royal Bank of Scotland’s collapse; it fell to the ground under Ed Miliband’s inability to rebuild trust in the party after the financial crisis and, finally, it was badly glued when Corbynians dusted off their sloppy clothes to be liked by the few blue collars left in a country where manufacturing accounts for 17% of GDP while the many work in the services sector representing the 80% of UK economy.
Spain - Podemos, after all, is the only force left able to form a coalition with socialist Psoe: Pedro Sanchez, party leader and acting Prime Minister, granted radical left leader Pablo Iglesias the Employment Ministry, but this sounded to him somehow diminishing; the refusal plunged Spain into a left winged political crisis seeing socialist Psoe and radical left labour UP (Unidas Podemos) trying to reach an agreement to form a left coalition government.
General elections were called in May after a minority government led by Sanchez bumped into the hurdle of the budget approval which did not pass the vote, then PM Sanchez decided to ask Spaniards full support by going to the polls. Outcome: no clear majority and a pact for a coalition to be sealed with Podemos.
But Iglesias’ pony tail is far more rebel than expected: new attempted coalition failed twice because of Podemos’ request for a major role in the executive (e.g. the Exchequer) which Sanchez is not prepared to concede.
Now the arena is open for the lefty corrida on September 23rd when radical Pablo Iglesias will have to pass through moderate socialist Sanchez' red muleta: tauromachia is ancestral, visceral; when humans became rational started fighting their own instinct, challenging their own fear of unpredictable nature and death. In that fight both can die; so if no agreement in the Congreso is reached, Psoe and Podemos will have to resign themselves to the destiny.
The lefty crisis in Western Europe: aerial view