Why is the political left gaining ground in some European countries while the extreme right is rising in regions that were once known as fortress of social democrats? If the main reason is the difference between the ideologies, this recent tendency could be understood. However, all political parties (other than ones on the extreme right and extreme left) – namely the conservatives, liberals and social democrats – are currently discussing basically the same social, economic and political maladies and proposing pretty much the same remedies. If there is no serious difference, why have people changed their minds?
The problem might be not one of ideologies but the implementation of policies by those parties when they are in power in the midst of a serious economic crisis. If a conservative party intervenes in every corner of the economy while defending the free-market mechanism and private enterprise, but still cannot find a proper solution to the unemployment problem, who can trust this party? Likewise, a social democratic party that promises a welfare state but instead reduces income distribution by further implementing unrealistic economic policies will naturally lose people’s sympathy.
Ideology must be defined properly. In other words, political parties must define and explain their ideologies as they are written in the book, not in a way they prefer. Ideology is the common beliefs, approaches and concepts of a group of people – for example, the sympathizers of a political party. This indicates that “belief” alone is not sufficient to define an ideology. It is necessary to have some approaches or policies to realize the beliefs and some concepts to support all of them.
For example, a person who supports the fight against poverty and unemployment cannot immediately be called a “leftist.” Nowadays, every civilized member of a democratic society defends that idea. To be defined as a “leftist,” one must think, discuss and, if given the chance, design policies to balance unjust income distribution and create new job opportunities. And these policies must depend on realistic concepts, not unrealistic dreams. Political parties on the right must also design and, when in power, implement policies which support the free-market mechanism and fight against unjust competition, corruption and so on.
When ideology is properly defined, it is easily understood why some political parties are losing ground while others are gaining. If political parties do not stick to their properly defined ideologies, they lose the trust of the people who believe in those ideologies. Or, more importantly, if they are not successful in solving problems due to unrealistic approaches or policies, people will naturally ultimately pin the blame on them even if they have stuck to their ideology.
Britain and France are the most recent examples. In recent years, every government in Britain has promised effectively the same during their election campaigns, but they have not been able to accomplish what was promised: reforming the education system, healthcare, transport and so on.
Secondly, when it is observed that the party in power begins losing popularity, it begins a process in which it adopts new approaches and policies that, while contradicting their ideology, seem to have been successful when they were used by other parties. These two mistakes result in an accelerated loss of popularity for all political parties.
At the same time, there are somewhat similar but somewhat different reasons why the left gained a second victory in France after so many years. First, reading the minds of the people who suffered most during the recent crisis, the ruling conservatives never tried to change their approaches and policies which were in accord with their ideology. As a result, they did not lose their constituents’ support. However, they most probably also could not accomplish what they promised, which was mostly unfeasible anyway.
There might be different elements playing an important role in increasing the popularity of the extreme right in France, as well as other European countries; increasingly negative attitudes toward migrant workers because of economic, political and social factors might be the main reason. It is sad to even imagine that such sentiments could have played a role in the domestic politics of some highly civilized democratic countries in Western Europe. However, sometimes serious problems can force people to abandon the way they were taught. This is a fact of life.