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by Maurice Ulrich, EDITORIAL

Farce and Fall Guys

Translated Monday 19 May 2008, by Shelagh Rothero

Boris Johnson, referred to in his own country as Boris the Buffer, has now become Lord Mayor of London. A few weeks ago, Gianni Alemanno, a former self-confessed fascist, became Mayor of Rome having disguised himself as a conservative.

At times, history takes on the appearance of a tragicomedy in which the electorate plays the fall guys. Here we have two capital cities, one immensely prestigious owing to its history and that of the Italian left, and the other, no less prestigious, creative and cosmopolitan as well as being one of the leading financial centres in Europe. Both have recently ceded to their respective right wings, thanks to popular opinion supporting law and order and the established global economy. Still blindly praising the virtues of their two great Western cities, the working classes voted for the Right, as did a more privileged part of the population, known in France as the "bobos" (bo-bo = bourgeois-bohemians), sensitive to social problems but financially won over to the cause of free market economics.

Both elections had the same characteristics, but in the case of Rome how can the use made of two rape cases involving foreigners be left without comment? Then in London, on the very night of his election, Boris Johnson brought up the murder of a fifteen-year-old youth, stabbed to death in the south of the city. Of course these problems exist, but everyone knows how Nicolas Sarkozy in France used the theme of security to stir up his socialist adversary on the same subject. Over the past year, ten general elections have taken place in Europe. With the exception of Spain, the right has swept to victory in France and Italy and maintained control in Estonia, Finland, Poland, Belgium, Denmark, Greece and Ireland. All of these the right wing parties have played on the confusion of the poor and the weak in the face of globalisation, on the fear of immigration which they assimilate with insecurity, on the apprehensions engendered by European integration in terms of social dumping shamelessly utilizing the very effects which result from their own political options.

But the right wing victories do not explain why the parties of the Left are losing, or, rather, not winning. In London, Ken Livingstone, the outgoing mayor, was nicknamed "Red Ken". But not only was his fate linked with that of the Labour Party under Tony Blair, and then Gordon Brown, he also considered increasing taxes to the detriment of the poor, already the most severely affected by the general loss in purchasing power, and by haphazard social protection. In Italy, the left wing candidate, Walter Vetroni, was a former mayor of Rome. It was he who declared during his campaign “We are reformists, not believers in the Left”.

If the Right keeps winning like this, it is perhaps because the Left, constantly drifting more and more towards the Right, have blurred their social image, forgotten the vision of change with which they should be opposing the Right, never even raising the issue of economic policy.

From this perspective, the rallying of social democratic forces (not unlike those of the Right) to the cause of a European free market, as well as their overall adherence to economic liberalism leaning toward protectionism, or perhaps even nationalism... all these factors have undoubtedly persuaded tens of millions of voters that there is no alternative, and that politics can change nothing. Where other left wing influences do exist, in Italy as in France, the bipolarisation of the two main contenders in competition for power has undoubtedly caused all the unrest by solliciting a so-called "effective ballot", supposedly worthwhile for those who still profess a remnant of common social values.

Europe is once again face to face with its own destiny. The recent demonstrations organised by the European trade unions over salaries and the solidarity from one enterprise to another are evidence that other political currents have survived. The unions continue to defend alternative choices, all of which contest the submission of our economic and social structures to Capitalism. The social edifice needs restoring, as do the social values inherent in an authentic European Left.

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