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The falling leaves of social democracy

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A new season is upon us, and with it some new content for this space which has sat empty for a long summer break.

Autumn has brought with it a set of political conclusions as clear to me as the red and orange colours that have taken over the Gatineau hills.  It is obvious that progressives are not ready to face changing seasons.  From Europe to America to the Canadian federal scene to Toronto -- falling leaves, turning colours and bare branches are metaphors for our condition.

Outside of Latin America, social democratic and labour politics have been in a free fall. In Sweden, the Social Democrats just recorded their lowest vote since 1914. In England, so called New Labour was soundly kicked out of office, suffering its worst result since WWII, while in Australia the Labour Party also lost a strong majority and now clings to power by its nails with little prospect of carrying out any agenda.  In the US, tea-party nutbars have the ascendancy and it is only a matter of how many Congressional seats the Democrats will lose in November.

This country is more or less in the same mode. September’s polling numbers were brutal for the federal NDP, with several surveys turning up the poorest results in over two years. The trend is seen even at the local level where the labour endorsed candidate in Toronto is a distant third, or fourth. In Ottawa, the progressive mayoralty candidate is also third or fourth.

“Its an angry world,” sings Neil Young in his creative new album “Le Noise.” It says a lot when a 65 year old rocker has as much to say to us as pretty much anything you find in the usual places we turn for insight.

Anger seems to be the most used word for what passes as political analysis. We are told that people are angry with incumbents and establishments of all kinds. We are fragmented socially and regionally and have apparently lost the ability to organize and rally collectivist values. But what none of this has provided is any real answers into why this anger has not resulted in any political gains, but losses instead, for the progressive side.

After spending months looking for “green shoots” (last season’s metaphor), I am reasonably satisfied that this is a general condition and not the result of particular policy and tactical mistakes, abundant as they may be. Nor is it a Canadian, American, Scandinavian, German or Australian problem. Lets just call it the problem with progressives.

It is time to take a break from everyday issues and talk about the problem. I have little time or interest in raking fallen leaves into neat little piles. The tree needs a good pruning for any chance of new growth.


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