Just as I was reading Nick Tyrone’s blog about Corbyn betraying the EU freedom of movement but wanting to have the EU cake nonetheless, another recently-elected Labour leader came on Dutch public radio. Note the date: Tuesday, January 10th, 2017.
I’m talking about former Amsterdam alderman and present Dutch minister of Social Affairs, the ambitious lawyer Lodewijk Asscher of the “Partij van de Arbeid”/PvdA, literally: “Labour Party”.
In the 1980s, when Labour under Michael Foot was going through its “Militant Tendency” phase, the then PvdA leaders, ex-prime minister (1973-’77) Den Uyl and coming prime minister (1994-2002) Wim Kok deplored that leftist populism and leftist political correctness gone wild. So both criticised it: British Labour, come to your senses.
In the Dutch campaign that just got started for the General Election on 15th March, Mr. Asscher, who just two weeks ago won a party leadership contest, just said that he counted on “European Leftist support” (PvdA jargon: from fellow Labour and social democratic parties) to pursue his top-profile policy: curbing free movement of labour through the EU. When the radio presenter quoted a phrase Gordon Brown grew to regret: “Jobs for our labourers first”, Mr. Asscher readily agreed. And who does he expect to get support from?
- The French Socialists have shriveled under non-reforming Hollande, and won’t grow if Valls start reforming to make up for time lost;
- Mr. Asscher explicitly cited Corbyn as a “valued teacher showing the way”; but graphs in The Economist show Labour 20% under the Tories, and Corbyn even further under May in popularity or voter confidence.
- The Spanish PSOE has been hit from the left (Podemos) and centre-right (Ciudadános; social liberal pragmatists), and still has a nepotist internal structure and party culture;
- The Italian socialists (the former clean Berlinguer communists; Craxi’s Socialists succumbed to structural sleeze in 1992) just gambled and lost on a Referendum on constitutional reforms the country badly needs;
- And documentaries from the German Ruhr industrial cities on Dutch TV showed how the SPD has lost its working-class base to the AfD populist promising miraculous recovery through protectionism and xenophobia. SPD councillors now stand for AfD.
- And Asschers own PvdA, on around 30 to 40 seats (of the 150 in our Commons) in 2006-‘12, has been hovering around 10 for the last two years.
In the years 1900-1930, Social-Democrats in Germany, Holland, the UK and Belgium pushed the (social)Liberals down from their position as one of the three big parties. It seems that is reversing, and that EU social democrats can’t get their act together for a revival.
If Grillo (Italian populist) hadn’t blundered yesterday on his reversal of EU course, trying to join the ALDE liberals, one could get the idea that whatever populists do, they grow. And because many of Labour’s present MPs are Remainers, UKIP can hang on to its newly conquered working class electorate..
Asscher is pragmatic enough to compromise on access for Eastern European labour; but Corbyn is more of the stubborn, hard-left variety, and a former decades-long Eurosceptic…
* Bernard Aris is a Dutch historian (university of Leiden), and Documentation assistant to the D66 parliamentary Party. He is a member of the Brussels/EU branch of the LibDems.