Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Political shift in Europe

In some ways we know how the UK fits into this shift, but does Putin's United Russia fit into this pattern?

(Americans, please don't get confused by the long-standing tradition of European politicians, journalists, and academics. They refer to leftish politics as red and rightish politics as blue. Somehow, those colors got reversed by journalists reporting in the U.S.A. I think its a sign of how ahistorical Americans are and how thoroughly Cold War politics changed the American political vocabulary.)

Blue tide of conservatism washing away last of Europe's leftists
On Sunday night, after Spain’s national-election votes have been counted, the last major patch of red will probably disappear from the European map. For the first time in modern history every major capital in the continent, from Lisbon to Helsinki, will be home to a conservative government…

The blue-tide reversal has been extraordinary. A decade ago, in the midst of an economic boom, Europe was a near-solid wall of social-democratic red, with only Ireland, Spain and a handful of Eastern European states held by conservatives…

Still, not since the early 1990s, when a wide bloc of centre-right parties helped create the euro, has conservatism been the dominant European idea…

Indeed, this time Europe’s conservatives seem to be divided by a common ideology: Frictions between Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain’s David Cameron have all but paralyzed economic recovery. This has left some pining for the deep co-operation that existed a few years ago between leftists in Britain and Germany and conservatives in France and Spain…

When the European crisis began three years ago, there was an influential school of thought which held that it would produce a natural rush to the political left…

But it hasn’t worked out that way. While there have been huge protests against the centre-left governments of Greece and Spain from even further to the left, and successful “occupy” protests in several capitals, the voters have been overwhelmingly sending their protest votes rightward…

[I]t may be possible that the left-wing parties drove themselves out of office by beating the right at its own game.

After all, these were not the tax-and-spend leftists of earlier decades. The big socialist and social-democratic governments of the 2000s were dominated by parties of fiscal restraint…

And, in a final reversal of fate, it will likely be Europe’s true-blue conservative parties who, like it or not, will end up raising taxes, increasing government spending and building even bigger government – because they’ll have little choice if they want to resolve the crisis. In the process, they might reverse a decade of lower taxes and smaller government delivered by leftists…

[I]mportantly, the conservative parties now in office will bear the brunt of the austerity and bailout programs, which will be unpopular with voters: Unless they can stay in office until the next wave of economic growth, they could be punished in the future for their currently popular policies. If the trends of the past 20 years are any guide, it could mark the beginning of a shift back to an all-red map.

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