The decline of the Party of Necessity
Before the fall of the Iron Curtain, left-wing parties in Europe typically had left-wing policies, such as being in favour of universal benefits, free education (incl. university tuition), generous unemployment benefits and free healthcare.
However, the collapse of communism seems to have made many formerly left-wing politicians believe that neoliberalism was the only game in town, and they gradually started enacting almost exactly the same policies as their right-wing opponents, just presented in a slightly left-wing fashion.
Most of the politicians from both formerly left-wing and right-wing political parties have studied politics, economics and/or law at university and have learnt to treat neoliberal textbooks as gospel.
To a large extent, one cannot tell these former opponents apart. I’ve suggested in the past that the Tories, Labour and the LibDems should merge into one Better Together party in Scotland, but in an international context, I’d suggest the merger should be called the Party of Necessity, because its politicians always claim their unpopular policies are “necessary” according to their textbooks.
So when the banks started collapsing in 2008, the reaction of the Party of Necessity governments was the same in all countries, namely to bail out the banks and introduce a version of austerity protecting the ultra-rich and sending the bill to the poorest citizens.
However, the beautiful thing about democracy is that if all the existing parties get something completely and utterly wrong, new parties will emerge from nowhere and replace them, or existing small parties will suddenly become huge. This is what we saw in Greece yesterday, and very similar things are happening all over Europe and beyond. (The Scottish Yes campaign, which nearly achieved Scottish independence last year, was of course also part of this international trend.)
Here are a few examples of the decline of the Party of Necessity:
Greece (PASOK + New Democracy): 2007: 79.9%, 2009: 77.4%, 2012: 32.1%, 2012 (again): 42%, 2015: 32.5%.
Spain (PP + PSOE): 2008: 83.8%, 2012: 73.4%, latest opinion polls: ~45%.
Italy (Democratic Party + People of Freedom): 2006: 99.5%, 2008: 84.3%, 2013: 58.6%, latest opinion polls: ~50%.
Scotland (Tory + Lab + LibDem), Westminster elections: 2005: 77.9%, 2010: 77.6%, latest opinion polls: ~45%.
UK (Tory + Lab + LibDem): 2005: 89.6%, 2010: 88.1%, latest opinion polls: ~68%.
Denmark (SocDem + SocLib + Cons + Lib): 2007: 67.2%, 2011: 65.9%, latest opinion polls: ~55%.
Germany (CDU/CSU + SPD + FDP): 2005: 79.2%, 2009: 71.4%, 2013: 72.0%, latest opinion polls: ~67%.
It’s clear that different countries aren’t at the same stage — as a rule of thumb it seems to be linked to how well they have coped with the recession. However, it seems likely that many European countries soon won’t be governed by the Party of Necessity. It’s already the case in Scotland and Greece, but the figures above makes me think it’s simply a question of time before a majority of European governments are anti-Necessity.
I’ve said it before, but we truly do live in interesting times.
Addendum (27/01/15): Aditya Chakrabortty has written a very interesting article about how Labour risks ending up like PASOK. His name for what I have called the Party of Necessity above is TINA (“there is no alternative”), which is a very accurate description, too.
23 thoughts on “The decline of the Party of Necessity”
AKA the Party of Reality.
No, I don’t agree. What the Troika considered necessary in Greece clearly disregarded reality.
When Reality means 60% of people are unemployed and 30% are dropping out of the healthcare safety net then you end up with anarchy, whether it is reality or not, so a plan B needs to be found before you have dying pensioners lying in the streets.
I wouldn’t put “PASOK + New Democracy” in the same basket as what people are calling the LibLabCon. Greece is in this mess because of widespread non-payment of tax coupled with corruption and a generally lacklustre work ethic. The result though is not anarchy but people coming together to solve problems at a local level as in that article I posted yesterday.
“Neoliberalism” is simply the common sense idea that wealth only comes from productive activity. It got perverted in the Blair years by lax lending practices encouraged by the Blair govt.
NZ is just as “Neoliberal” as the UK, if not more so. (Definitely more so.) Govt. and lenders here remained relatively prudent during the naughties, hence the economy here is relatively less messed up those of the UK and the Eurozone.
The decline of the Party of Necessity http://t.co/UREBd879Oy
This article makes many of the same points, but in a different way: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jan/27/uk-austerity-greece-parallels-labour-toxic-eliteness Also, it calls my Party of Necessity ‘TINA’ (‘There Is No Alternative’), which works well, too.
Of course there’s an alternative: default, whether reluctantly agreed or not. There’s another alternative: hyper-inflationary money printing of the traditional (non-QE) kind to inflate the debt away. But default destroys a country’s credit credibility in the medium to long term so it’s a foolish alternative. It also leads to capital flight, as is already happening in Greece. Look at Argentina to see the effect of default. Greece is going to try to negotiate default — given that, where will Syriza get the funds to increase public sector employment, with capital flight and junk-bond sovereign debt credibility?
There really is no credible alternative to austerity when you explore the proposed alternatives beyond their surface appeal.
How will Syriza fund its promises after capital flight and loss of credibility on the international money markets? By printing new Drachmas?
Would it really have been worse for ordinary Greeks if the banks had gone bust, given that deposits up to €10k are guaranteed in the EU?
Yes. Even more businesses would have failed as falling banks pulled the plug on their commercial loans. The consequent job losses would have been worse.
Why would any set of politicians put a country through a thing as nasty as austerity if there were a nicer alternative? Surely they would if they could, so as to make themselves popular? Austerity is short term pain for longer term stability. The alternatives are short term feel-good fixes with serious long term consequences.
It’s hard to be certain, but when I look at Greece’s unemployment figures, I find it hard to agree with you — even if many companies had gone bust, new ones would have appeared if the consumers had a bit of money to spend. However, sucking all the money out of the economy is the safest way to get rid of most jobs.
Austerity as it’s implemented seems to be designed to protect the banks and other multinational companies at the expense of small businesses and ordinary citizens.
No, it protects capital, because without capital, there is no investment, and without investment, there is no hope of a return to growth. If you scare away capital you are doomed.
In Europe (incl. the UK), banks have almost stopped lending to small businesses.
No, it’s just a lot lower and more cautious than before 2007, with good reason. More cautious/prudent lending practices are a good thing, not a bad thing.
It is understandable that a soft-Left party like Labour would be in favour of austerity. They traditionally raise public spending through bond issues so they need to support policies that will retain the UK’s good sovereign debt reputation. It would be counterproductive for them to prepare for potential power after the election with a programme that could lead to a default and the kinds of capital flight that goes along with that.
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