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France, Greece, and Now Spain: A Renaissance of the Left?

09/06/2015 11:39 BST | Updated 08/06/2016 10:59 BST

With Podemos, Spain's left-wing anti-austerity movement, making dramatic gains in the local and regional elections, a discernible renaissance of Left-wing parties across Europe seems to be under way. France was first to break the centre-right, business-friendly mould when Francois Hollande was elected President in 2012. Greece then followed earlier this year with the far-left Syriza party and now Podemos look set to follow with possibly greater gains still to come in Spain's national election in December.

But is this a genuine Renaissance; a Renaissance of substance? When Hollande was elected, France's Left had high hopes. But what occurred provides a sobering lesson. As The Times reported,

After 18 months of stagnation under orthodox socialist leadership, [Hollande] confirmed that he was swinging towards the market-friendly policies adopted over the past 15 years by left-wing parties in Germany, Britain and elsewhere.

What Hollande found is that in today's globalised world, no national leader can significantly raise taxes or regulations on the rich and on business without them reacting by simply moving - or merely threatening to move - elsewhere. The potential flight of capital and jobs not only undermines Left-wing policies, but makes them effectively impossible. Put differently, no national leader can avoid the absolute need to keep the national economy internationally competitive. Try to, and the international competition driven by global markets will soon force you to reverse your agenda. So much for a Renaissance.

The French Experience should give the Left elsewhere cause to doubt whether winning elections in Spain, Greece or anywhere else can really deliver on their hopes. The fact that markets are global casts doubt on whether any Left-wing government can stay that way for long. This is a lesson that the Left in Britain is learning too, as I mentioned in my previous piece.

In Greece, the Left's hopes remain high. But what will be "left" once the difficult bail-out re-negotiations are complete? Either Syriza will have had to agree to wide-ranging business-friendly market reforms, so betraying those who elected it, or Greece will exit the Euro and may then find itself in a still-worse position. Either way, the will of the people will have been frustrated. And much the same, we can expect, will be the outcome in Spain if Podemos achieve office.

I use the words "achieve office" deliberately. For as should be clear, achieving office does not mean achieving power. For the power of governments is today shaped not by electoral preferences but by market demands. The need of all governments to keep their economies 'internationally competitive' comprehensively excludes a Left agenda and so turns democracy into 'Mockracy'; a kind of Hobson's Choice in which you can vote any party you like into office, but the policies delivered will remain substantially the same. Little wonder voters the world over are disaffected and fed-up with politics.

The only grain of comfort for the Left is that Mockracy also limits the isolationist far-Right. For markets demand open borders and cheap labour. Isolationist parties looking to seal off national borders, can count on businesses threatening to move elsewhere, so cowing voters into towing the business-friendly 'competitiveness' line. They, too, can only be frustrated.

To the extent that we and our politicians see no alternative to the competitiveness agenda, we start to see how we've all been subtly and unwittingly co-opted. Centre-right, free-market politics have subtly become our politics. For the paramount need for each nation to stay internationally competitive, and our knowledge that our own economic fortunes are bound up with that, mean that we, too, are complicit: the compliant drones of the global market. We may think we live in democratic countries, free to elect the party and policies of our choosing, but we're still labouring under the false illusion that getting a party into office means it has power. Like fish, we do not see the international competitiveness whirlpool we and our politicians are all swimming in and shaped by.

National approaches, in Greece, Spain, the UK or anywhere else, we must realise, simply can't work anymore in a world that is global and in which national democracy has been reduced to Mockracy. This requires a new global political approach that not only transcends party-political differences and national borders, but is capable of neutralising the international competitiveness whirlpool so that we, and the governments we elect, can swim freely again. If there's to be a Renaissance, it's not the party in office in any country that needs changing, but the global water itself.