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Learning from Progressive Winners Across the Globe

Justin Trudeau, Olaf Scholz and Anthony Albanese standing in front of an enlarged Keir Starmer

The 2020s have marked an advancement for progressive movements across the globe. Starting with Joe Biden’s defeat of Donald Trump in the US, progressive politics has made headway around the world. When faced with the option in the ballot box, voters have started to reject the divisiveness of right-wing politics. They are now turning to pragmatic leaders from the centre-left to lead them into a new era of progressive politics.

It is now the responsibility of Britain’s Labour Party to look at these victories for guidance on how they too can win the next general election. If the likes of Canada’s Justin Trudeau, Germany’s Olaf Scholz and Australia’s Anthony Albanese can do it, then there is hope that Keir Starmer will follow suit.

Among recent progressive winners was Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party in Canada, with Trudeau winning a third term as Prime Minister. Despite some fears during the campaign that they may lose to the Conservatives, they ultimately gained seats. Canadian political consultant Gerald Butts attributed this victory to a “smart campaign” that prioritised “vote efficiency.” This meant directing all the party’s resources toward winnable seats, and thus putting little to no effort in seats deemed unattainable.

In this alone, there are important lessons to be learned, and it seems that the Labour Party have already taken heed. In recent by-elections we too have prioritised “vote efficiency”, focussing our efforts into winnable seats such as Wakefield and side-stepping non-winnable seats such as Tiverton and Honiton. In the context of a general election, it is true that tactical voting will become trickier, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. After all, it played a very important role in the 1997 general election, where John Major was defeated in part due to anti-Conservative tactical voting.

Furthermore, there are parallels to be found between the Canadian and British Conservative Parties. In the aftermath of these results, some commentators argued that the Conservative defeat was because their support had shifted to smaller parties, such as the People’s Party of Canada (PPC). The British Conservative Party are suffering similar, though not identical, problems. Whilst the Canadian Conservatives have lost support to the right-wing PPC, the British Conservatives are losing support to the left-wing Liberal Democrats. Though the PPC and the Lib Dems hold different ideological viewpoints, they both exist as protest votes for small-c conservative voters. The by-elections in Tiverton and Honiton and North Shropshire are classic examples of this, whereby Conservative voters have switched their support to the Lib Dems in protest of Boris Johnson’s leadership. If the British Conservatives are unable to prevent further protest votes, then they are likely to endure a similar fate to the Canadian Conservatives.

The Canadian election was followed shortly thereafter by the German federal election, whereby the Social Democrats (SPD) emerged victorious against the Christian Democrats (CDU) in what was their first election victory since 2002. The proportional nature of the voting system means that they did not win an outright majority, though they were able to form a coalition alongside the Greens and the Free Democratic Party.

Prior to this election, the SPD had been marred by long-term infighting and factionalism, causing some to believe they would never return to power. Despite this, the decision to nominate Olaf Scholz to run as the party’s candidate for Chancellor soon turned things around. Although he was not party leader, it was recognised that his style of politics would prove electable and thus senior party figures selected him to fight the election. Scholz was seen as having a calm and moderate leadership style, helping him earn voters’ trust.

In many ways, Scholz and Starmer have a lot in common; both are mild-mannered individuals who fought for social justice in the courtroom before pursuing a career in politics, where they have both applied a pragmatic approach to governance. Considering the similarities between the two men, one can only hope that Starmer can replicate Scholz’s electoral success. After a tumultuous start to the decade with the pandemic, people are now looking to rational leaders like Scholz and Starmer in search of some serenity.

The incumbent CDU endured many problems like those currently suffered by the Conservatives. There were numerous corruption scandals in the run-up to the election, which is something the Conservatives have been no stranger to over the past year. In addition to this, the CDU’s election loss can be attributed in part to a deeply unpopular leader in the form of Armin Laschet. Laschet had been referred to as an “unserious candidate ill-suited to the highest office”. Some would use similar terminology to describe Boris Johnson who, as we publish this blog, has announced he will be vacating that office. Whether this will be enough to reinvigorate the Conservatives remains to be seen. There are certain candidates positioning to replace Johnson who could also be described as “ill-suited to the highest office”, making it possible they make the same mistake again.

The final case study is Australia where, earlier this year, the Labor Party won a federal election for the first time since 2010. Their victory was ascribed to the fact that the incumbent Liberal-National Coalition had failed to address numerous crises, with Labor offering a credible alternative in turn. Australia had endured a deadly bushfire crisis two years prior to the election, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison was heavily criticised for his lacklustre response.

Once again, the British Labour Party can learn from this. The UK is currently undergoing a crisis of its own (the cost-of-living crisis), and the Conservatives’ response has been widely condemned. If the British Labour Party can centre the narrative around this crisis in the same way as their Australian counterparts and provide a sincere response, then victory is in sight. Earlier this year, we compiled a report which produced a similar conclusion, which can be found here.

Whilst Labor was focussing on crisis response, the Liberal-National Coalition tried to deflect by fighting the election on the grounds of a culture war. The British Conservatives are currently trying a similar tactic, attempting to engage in a “war on woke.” This strategy failed spectacularly in Australia however, as shown by the results. One Coalition Senator claimed that the culture wars “damaged [their] brand”, further contributing to their loss. This shows that the British Conservatives have little to gain from trying to fight culture wars, and that Labour should not get distracted by these attempted distractions. Instead, we must continue to focus on the issues that matter most, such as the cost-of-living crisis.

Having explored the aforementioned case studies, it would appear that a progressive renaissance is on the horizon. This is good news for the British Labour Party, but there is still plenty to achieve before victory can be ascertained. We should continue to run a smart campaign and focus all our resources on target seats, just as Canadian progressives did. We must embrace Starmer as a pragmatic leader who can provide sensible leadership, just as German progressives did. And we must centre the narrative around the Conservatives’ inability to tackle crises and avoid getting drawn into culture wars, just as Australian progressives did. By doing this, we too will join the increasing list of progressive winners across the globe.

Canada, Germany and Australia are only a handful of the recent progressive winners across the globe. Political consultant Rodrigo Vaz recently wrote about the impressive victory of Portugal’s Socialistas. Read it here.