COMMENTARY: The collected excuses of the decimated left
By Heikki Aittokoski
What has happened in the first five months of 2009?
Disgruntled French workers have kidnapped their bosses.
In Edinburgh, vandals trashed the windows of the house and car belonging to disgraced and comfortably-pensioned banker Sir Fred Goodwin, formerly the chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland.
In Germany, the designated SPD candidate for the chancellorship Frank-Walter Steinmeier thundered to the Opel car-workers that "GM made good earnings at Opel for a long time, and it is indecent to now throw away the workers at European locations like squeezed-out lemons."
On Monday, after the appreciable clouds of dust from the European Parliament elections had settled, Steinmeier wasn't doing much thundering. The Social Democrats got a bloody nose at the polls.
And the same thing happened to the parties of the left in France, in Britain, where Gordon Brown's Labour Party ran a dismal third behind even the anti-EUers of the UK Independence Party, in Spain, Hungary, Portugal - and not least in Finland.
The bourgeoisie may not sleep very well, but they were certainly wide awake for the weekend's elections across the continent.
At least when they are compared with their brothers on the European left, who were fast asleep the whole time.
Why did the traditional social democratic and labour parties lose? Where did they disappear to?
It is a good question. The conditions on the ground ought by rights to have been ideal for the propagating of the so-called "little man" ideology.
What we need are some collected explanations and excuses.
Explanation No.1: The left channeled its frustration and dissatisfaction by staying at home.
This sort of approach to the defeat was taken by the Finnish SDP leader Jutta Urpilainen, who commented that the low voter turnout correlates "traditionally" with a poor performance by the Social Democrats.
It's an interesting enough tradition, but a lousy excuse. If in times like these one cannot get the punters behind one, then is it ever going to happen?
Explanation No.2: The Financial Times columnist Quentin Peel argued that in straitened times the insecure voters "opted for the safety of the right".
Much the same was put forward by the Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, from the liberal-conservative Civic Platform party, during a visit to Helsinki. Sikorski argues that the European Parliament elections demonstrate that voters do not want too much state interference or protectionism.
An interesting train of thought, but it walks with a pronounced limp. Rightist leaders from Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel onwards have hardly done anything else but sticking the state's nose into everything.
So where's the safety?
However, out of this we can cook up a third excuse.
Explanation No.3: What if the right is the new red?
In the words of the Dutch socialist MEP Jan-Marinus Wiersman: "The conservatives won by stealing our free market-sceptic agenda."
It has the ring of an excuse after the horse has bolted, but there is a plausibility to it all the same.
As the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung noted - what were they doing in the first place, leaving their property lying around to get it stolen?
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 9.6.2009
The writer of the article heads the Helsingin Sanomat foreign desk.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Europe deserts the left (9.6.2009)
HEIKKI AITTOKOSKI / Helsingin Sanomat