German voters clobbered the Social Democratic Party on Sunday, giving it only 23 percent of the vote, its worst performance since World War II.
Voters at the polls also hammered left-leaning candidates in last summer’s European Parliamentary elections. Furthermore, French Socialists in 2007 were bounced from office in record numbers. In countries here the left still holds power, Spain and the United Kingdom, it is under siege by conservative opponents. But where the left is out of power such as France, Italy and now Germany, it is splintered and without direction.
Furthermore, in Portugal the governing Socialists won narrowly in their elections on Sunday, but lost their absolute majority in the Parliament. In Spain the Socialists still get credit for opposing both Franco and the Iraq war, but are losing ground in the uncertain economy having been the majority party for the past several years. In Germany, the broad left, which includes the Greens and other hard left parties, has a very slim majority in Parliament, but Social Democrats, after the election must consider building ties with the hard left, Die Linke, which is the "new" East German Communist Party.
In France life is even harder the left. Asked by journalists if the Socialist Party was dying, Bernard-Henri Lévy, an hard-core Socialist, answered:
“No — it is already dead. No one, or nearly no one, dares to say it. But everyone, or nearly everyone, knows it.”
At the time he was accused of greatly exaggerating, given the Socialist party is the largest in opposition and is at the moment, still popular at the local level, his words struck many as apt at the national level. The Socialist Party, has weakening ties to a diminishing working class, and moreover, has been developing rifts from personal rivalries. They last won the presidency in 1988, in 2007 the last presidential election, Ségolène Royal was beaten by Mr. Sarkozy by 6.1 percent, a large margin in France where losses are often measured by less than 2%.
The French Socialist Party “is trapped in a hopeless contradiction,” said Tony Judt, director of the Remarque Institute at New York University. It espouses a radical platform it cannot deliver; the result leaves space for parties to its left that can take as much as 15 percent of the vote.
The internal fighting in left/far-left parties in France and elsewhere has done very little to place Socialist parties in position to answer the central question of the moment: how to preserve the an overly expensive welfare state in a period of slow growth and ballooning deficits. The Socialists have, at this moment, become conservatives, fighting to preserve systems that voters think need to be discarded.