The End of the Left and the Right as We Knew Them

The rise of an affluent left — sometimes triumphant, sometimes not — can be seen in the victories of Emmanuel Macron and his new La République en Marche (the Republic on the Move) party in France; in the surprise showing of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party in the June 8 parliamentary elections in Britain; in the composition of the electorate that unsuccessfully backed Hillary Clinton; and in the victories of Alexander Van der Bellen, president of Austria, and of Mark Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy in the Netherlands.

In much of Europe, although not in Britain, the growth of the populist right has devastated once powerful labor and social democratic parties on the left. In the Austrian presidential election, for example, the success of the far right Freedom Party resulted in a fourth place showing for the Social Democratic candidate. In the French parliamentary elections this month, the ruling Socialist Party saw its 280 seats dwindle to 29 out of 577. In the Netherlands, the number of seats held in parliament by the Dutch Labor Party fell from 38 to 9 after the March election.

On the surface, the success of the British Labour Party in the elections two weeks ago would appear to stand apart. But Labour’s gains were not based on improved margins in traditionally Labour leaning constituencies. Corbyn’s Labour Party actually lost ground on its home turf, but it more than made up for those setbacks by prevailing in Conservative constituencies.

The Financial Times has documented a steady decline in class-based voting in Britain. In 1987, the British middle class voted for the Conservative Party by 40 points more than the national average, while the working class voted for the Labor Party by 32 points more than the national average — a 72-point spread. By 2017, the spread had dropped to 15 points. Once a Tory stronghold, the British middle class now splits its vote evenly.

A parallel voting…

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