Challenges to the Left-Right Cleavage in Europe

By Anonyme | 26 May 2014


“Modern politicians are all the same”, says the Scottish satirist Rory Bremner. Are they really? Apropos of the European and some coinciding national elections, articles in this issue will examine this statement and the truth it comprises. Do today’s voters have genuinely different options between parties, politicians and policies? Choices they can make on a left-right scale? 

The Left-Right scale serves to assist the classification of political positions of parties as well as voters. Traditionally, left-wing parties favour economic governance and are considered as more liberal and progressive on social issues while right-wing parties reject the interventionist state and are perceived as conservative on identity-related issues. Today, we can clearly observe that parties’ identities also evolve over time and are subjected to constant change. Under certain circumstances, during electoral campaigns in particular, left-right policy-related preferences tend to overlap and hence all parties appear to be the same sort of “Catch-All-Party”, representing progressive, socio-liberal, green… ’general' values. For instance, the Swedish Conservatives under Frederik Reinfeldt convincingly proposed a clear policy line to retain and reinforce the welfare state and won the elections against a “highly professionally governing social democracy.” (Hillebrand 2007: 19) Strikingly also most parties in the entire political spectrum integrated a comparable take on environmental issues, Green Parties were dedicated to in the first place. Right parties adopting a policy rhetoric including buzz phrases like “compassionate conservatism”, “traditional Christian Democracy” and “dignity of labour” definitely emulate or at least borrow policies from the Left, the latter is specialised in. Equally, the Left obviously “re-centred” in the aftermath of the bipolar confrontation of the Cold War. So the Left-Right cleavage in the political arena can be fairly confusing.

Yet, can there be anything apolitical about state control at all? “It is not us who have become apolitical, the politicians have become apolitical,” complains a French youth growing up in the Parisian suburbs (Hillebrand 2007: 16). Do governments really resemble more and more corporate governances led by professional politicians? Marta Lorimer questions this alleged technocracy searching for right answers to policy challenges instead of the best possible real-world- related policy option, thus putting clearly forward that politics is always about relative and not absolute choices. Following suit, Isabel Winnwa underlines the continuing importance and validity of the Left-Right paradigm presenting at the same time its limits and challenges it contains, particularly with regard to the Left. Garunya Karunaharamoorthy addresses precisely the latter problem in terms of the European Left and its difficulties to provide a workable alternative to the current dominantly conservative regime. Eventually, Dorothea Baltruks depicts the effects of the challenged Left-Right paradigm in the national context of the United Kingdom, explaining the rationale behind the policy dynamics fuelled by its EU membership.

by Garunya Karunaharamoorthy

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   Picture credit: One way to truth, by Eric, on flickr