Social Democratic Governments: Pendulum Law Alert?

In the real world, things never go in straight lines or predictable curves. The things we call trends are actually an elaborate profile of change, reaction and upheaval. If you trace the path, you’ll see evidence of the Law of the Pendulum. Gord Hotchkiss wrote a great piece in Mediapost on this subject and the inevitability of the pendulum effect in politics.

In the physical world, the Law is defined as: “the movement in one direction that causes an equal movement in a different direction.” In the world of human behaviour, it is defined as: “the theory holding that trends in culture, politics, etc., tend to swing back and forth between opposite extremes.

Political parties and political ideologies are the ultimate pendulum swingers when it comes to human behaviour. And at the moment, social democratic parties all over Europe are being dealt immense blows of prestige, popularity, leadership vacuums… all of which have created an overall and critical lack of socialist governments throughout the EU.

Malta’s Labour will be heading for its next general elections after eight plus years manning Auberge de Castille. All the polls and statistics show that Labour should win again at the next elections, giving the Left in Malta another five years led by Prime Minister Robert Abela. But a cursory look at what is happening all over the European Union shows that our country’s left wing government is indeed an exception to the rule and not the accepted political swing felt across the whole of Europe. Out of 27 EU countries, only three countries (Malta included) are ruled by Socialists. And one of them is indeed a minority government. Seven other EU countries have a Social Democratic party as part of a government coalition, the bulk of which are junior coalition partners and have duly registered huge voter losses due to their right-wing bedfellows (the German and Czech Social Democrats are perfect examples of this).

Out of 27 EU countries, only three countries, Malta included, are ruled by Socialists.

Below, one finds a list of EU countries and the last year that the country boasted a left-wing government:

Two thirds of EU countries today have Socialist parties in opposition. The United Kingdom, which voted to leave the EU, last produced a Labour government in 2010.

There are many reasons for this right-wing political pendulum swing across Europe. One would need a whole book to analyse the scenario. The collapse of Europe’s once-dominant Socialist political parties has been apparent for years. By now, however, the left has all the information it needs to pull out of its nosedive. But will it start using it?

The crushing defeats of 2017 — the near-death experience of the Socialist Party in France, the deflation of the German Social Democrats and the Dutch Labour Party, the shrinking of the entire left in the Czech Republic — apparently weren’t enough of a wake-up call. The defeated parties haven’t regained popularity, and some, like the German Social Democrats, have slid further down in the polls. The centre left collapsed in Italy, letting two populist parties take the reins. In Sweden, the Social Democrat-led government saw diminished support in an inconclusive election and was unable to keep governing. In the UK, the Labour Party was unable to wrest power from the squabbling, poorly led Tories, largely because it is itself divided on major issues.

So let us go back to the political pendulum swings. When talking about the Pendulum Effect, we also have to keep an eye on Overton’s Window. Overton’s window defines the frame of what the majority of us – as a society – find acceptable. As the pendulum swings back and forth between extremes, somewhere in the middle is a collective view that most of us can live with. But Overton’s window is always moving.

It is therefore a scientific certainty that if the perception of the political parties of Overton’s window is not in synch with the perception of the electorate, then one loses elections and one’s electoral voting base. It is a nightmarish tightrope walk of watching out for Overton’s window without relinquishing the basic tenets and philosophical ideals of your Movement.

This is essentially the success story of Malta’s Labour Party in winning elections and why Malta’s conservative party has not redeemed itself to the electorate and regained its trust. The latter’s perception is merely that the party is always right and the electorate should do the right thing and vote conservative. Irrespective of the fact that the necessary catharsis and party rejuvenation never happened. Irrespective of the fact that no realistic alternative ideas to governing have been given in these last years by an opposition whose main exercise was infighting and political blood-letting.

But is it this easy for Prime Minister Robert Abela to ensure an electoral win in the next general election? Definitely not, since the traditional establishment has been out of office for two consecutive terms and will fight tooth and nail to encourage a change of government. But, in my humble opinion, Premier Robert Abela’s most difficult task will be the actual governing of the next five years leading to a general election around 2026. But more of this in my next article.

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