European Elections Offer Some Respite, But Also New Challenges

ElectionsState Of The Nation Liberalism
European Elections Offer Some Respite, But Also New Challenges

There are few more pleasing sights in all of politics than seeing the racist and destructive Far-Right defeated. There are victories of purpose and victories of relief. When they are combined, the sensation is even sweeter. In desperate times, you’ll take what you can get.

While America continues to bumble and fumble its way toward the 2024 election, results in Great Britain and France have provided a measure of respite to some. In the former, Labour has taken power for the first time in 14 years, delivering a landslide victory over the beleaguered and embarrassing Tories. In the latter, Marine Le Pen’s repugnant National Rally was defeated soundly by a coalition of President Emmanuel Macron’s Center-Right and, most notably, the Left.

There is much to say about both outcomes, but it should be noted that evicting the Tories and denying Le Pen power is, at least briefly, something to celebrate.

Americans are generally resistant to examining international politics. Occasionally something like 2016’s Brexit vote will burp up to the surface and signal a shift in trajectory, alerting those willing to see it to the growth of a movement that would not only affect the U.S. Presidential Election but also serve as a portent to the political sea change we are presently weathering. But the affairs of Europeans, and certainly nations of the Global South, seem to matter little to the casual American observer.

Our interdependence through neoliberal globalism, however, has created these conditions around the world. The neoliberal turn in the last half century has created a perfect environment for the troubles we are enduring. Authoritarianism has been an essential component of this system, and capitalist exploitation was always going to eventually boomerang around and bite the “First World” Western Democracies in the ass. That neoliberal capitulation, which enjoys buy-in from all viable political parties, has brought us now to the precipice of an abyss.

In Great Britain, Labour greatly benefitted from a general malaise and Torie fatigue. Those 14 years of conservative domination were marked by aggressive austerity, the dismantling of the social safety net and administrative state, and an obvious subservience to the financial elites who created this world. The way forward from that morass required at least the possibility of a new path which differed from the continued consensus. Previously, that path was offered by Jeremy Corbyn, whose Leftist ideology was popular but eventually — and this should be familiar to American readers — led to the party cutting him out by the knees.

Enter Keir Starmer, the new Labour Prime Minister. For his campaign, Starmer sought out one of the most successful electoral politicians of the modern age: Barack Obama. In advising Starmer, Obama emphasized the need for a politician to tell a personal story that could relate the candidate to the voters, all while sounding a constant and optimistic need for change. With the election, we saw once again how potent that strategy is, but like Obama himself, we’re now left to wonder whether that promised change can be delivered and if the messenger is even interested in what they pledged.

France is a horse of a completely different color. Dissolving Parliament following National Rally’s performance in the European Union elections was an unforced error and nearly blew up in Emmanuel Macron’s telegenic face. NR performed strongly in the first round of elections and the only reason that we’re not discussing Jordan Bardella taking the office of prime minister is because the Left formed a popular front; hundreds of candidates dropped out of Sunday’s runoff, consolidating the vote against the Far-Right candidates. The move spoke to a population desperate for something else.

If forced between to choose between the Right and Left, the neoliberal center has, and will always, align with the Right as their shared motivations are the protection and empowering of capital, while the Left seeks to dismantle capital’s influence. It was no coincidence that before polls directed him, Macron was consistently warning of the dangers of both the Right and the Left, a playbook that has been followed by every centrist since there was a political center. In America we have seen this consistently with denouncements of Donald Trump by our media and Democratic leaders that are coupled with concerns about “wokeness,” protesters, and even the most moderate democratic socialists.

The Left recognized both the threat of the Right and the failure of the Center in France. A coalition of socialists, communists, and leftists put aside their differences and united in order to begin addressing the material conditions that brought France, and the rest of the Western world, to the brink. History indicates it is likely that Macron will both stifle them and eventually turn on them, but the creation of the popular front is the only choice to be made. The question now is whether the Left can take the kind of action the situation requires and the people demand, or whether Macron and the interests he represents will scuttle their efforts and eventually turn a wayward eye to Le Pen and the Right.

I am in no way delusional about how these situations will develop. For all of Starmer’s bluster about “change,” we are likely to see a continuation of the status quo in the same fashion as we saw with Obama, his mentor. Slogans are powerful. They speak to something the people actually want, namely representation that will finally begin addressing the conditions that brought us here. When those slogans aren’t backed by solutions, however, is when things begin to get very, very bad. That Starmer has already backtracked on many of his proposed solutions does not provide a lot of hope for his rule.

Authoritarianism is a disease that feeds off disaffection and demoralization. It promises “actual” solutions when all the other promises have withered and given way to nihilism and pessimism. In order to understand our present moment, we must also look to the successes and failures of our previous political saviors. This includes Bill Clinton, Labour’s own Tony Blair, Obama, and Macron, all of whom promised change and instead lent their influence to the status quo. It isn’t enough to just credit them with their electoral victories. You must zoom out and see the policies that followed. In doing so, you begin to recognize how elections are sometimes representations of citizens going through the grief cycle and landing on rage, denial, or despair.

The messaging remains important. Change is what people want. And, what’s more, they do want to see a popular front develop that challenges Right-Wing authoritarianism while also changing the material conditions that fed it for so many years. It is the antithesis of what we have seen in America, where our politics have become divided between one party that promises fascistic reaction and another that only vows to defend the status quo as it was.

Authoritarianism works in observable cycles. Currently, we are living through the period where faith in institutions and liberal democracy is shaky at best and terminally undermined at worst. We were told in 2020 that electing Joe Biden would protect democracy and return us to “normal.” Again, in 2024, we are being asked to protect democracy and normal seems like an island that is vanishing in the far distance.

In Great Britain and France, they are having their moments of relief. Like in 2021, when Biden was being sworn in just a short walk away from a Capitol being cleaned and guarded in the wake of the January 6th riots, there is a semblance of hope that maybe the worst of times has been avoided. What Biden was tasked with was reinvigorating faith in liberal democracy. Labour and France’s popular front coalition are now faced with a similar challenge. Continuing to play it safe and dress up conservatism and neoliberalism as “change” will only dig the hole deeper.

And that hole is already plenty deep.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin