After a decade of reinvention, Labour has again fallen short electorally. Thursday’s dramatic loss in Hartlepool and in councils across the country has raised the perennial question for parties on the left: “What is to be done?”
Much of the discussion of Labour’s woes concentrates on British particularities, its Brexit strategy and the relative merits of the Blairite and Corbynite reinventions. However, the dilemmas Labour faces are far from particular. The last decade has not been kind to social democratic parties across Europe. The centre-left parties that dominated European politics for the second half of the 20th century have suffered a string of losses.
In France, the Parti Socialiste fell to under 8% of the vote in the last legislative elections, with no signs of recovery. In 2017, the German SPD experienced its worst postwar performance, a showing likely to worsen in September’s election. Even where social democrats are in power, their position is tenuous. The Swedish Social Democrats, the most electorally successful socialist party in Europe, struggled to form a government after the 2018 election.
The moment you say that socialism, socialists, and social democracy are the same thing then you’ve lost the argument. For they’re not, they’re alternatives.
Socialism is the idiocy of trying to replace capitalism and markets with clipboardwielders. Social democracy is taxing the snot out of capitalism and markets to pay the clipboardwielders. As the Scandinavian experience shows – countries that are indeed higher tax than we are but also more capitalist and more market – one of these two works and the other doesn’t.
Of course, not taxing the snot out of people has its merits too. But baby steps, baby steps.