Europe: Centre-left parties are losing their once main constituency: workers

Interesting excerpts from a Reuters article:

With his square-jawed good looks, easy smile and way with words, Edouard Martin could have been a Hollywood movie star.

But the steel worker and trade union activist who confronted Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy and Francois Hollande to defend jobs at a doomed blast furnace in Florange in northeastern France has just traded his hard-hat for a politician’s suit.

Hollande’s Socialist Party (PS) recruited Martin, 50, as its top candidate for the May 25 European Parliament election in the rust belt Lorraine region.

As with center-leftists elsewhere in Europe, it is a bid to win back blue collar voters from the far-right and hard left.

It looks like a lost cause. An Ifop poll published last week (April 23) showed the anti-EU National Front in the lead in the eastern constituency with 26%, the conservative UMP party at 24% and the PS trailing far behind on 15.5%.

The town of Hayanges, where Martin worked at an ArcelorMittal steel mill, elected a former CGT union organizer as its far-right National Front mayor last month.

Things are not so good in Germany, even though its economy is much healthier and there is no party like the National Front or UKIP there (yet):

The SPD [Socialst party] that once won up to 40% of the national vote remains becalmed around 25%, 15% behind Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats (CDU). The Left party has just under 10% as have the Greens.

In the UK:

In Britain, the right-wing nationalist UK Independence Party, which campaigns for leaving the European Union, is increasingly drawing support from working class and poor voters who traditionally back the center-left Labour Party.

Opinion polls show UKIP, led by charismatic former metals trader Nigel Farage, vying with Labour for top slot in the EU election.  Political scientists Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin found in a survey of 100,000 voters that UKIP is picking up backing from social groups they call the “left behind.”

In the 1960s, the working class made up half the British electorate. By the time Tony Blair’s New Labour won power in 1997, that proportion had fallen to one in three, so he adapted the party’s message to appeal to aspiring middle-class voters.

“We have bitten very big chunks out of the Labour vote in northern England but no one has noticed,” Farage told Reuters in an interview in February, when his party came a strong second in a parliamentary by-election in traditional left-wing territory.

UKIP activists were welcomed in housing estates where no one had seen a non-Labour candidate on their doorstep for decades.

It is not that any party is going to resurrect the industrial sector, but there are also other factors:

Asked how he could succeed when opinion polls show the EU is not among voters’ top five concerns, Farage said: “It is if you spell it IMMIGRATION. Immigration and Europe are the same thing.”

Britain saw more than 650,000 immigrants – mostly from new central European member states – arrive after the EU expanded to the east in 2004. Although unemployment is low, the newcomers have vied with local workers for low-paid jobs, depressing wages and fuelling competition for housing and schooling.

Then there are the social factors:

many of these voters have conservative social values and have been alienated by policies such as gay marriage. They want tougher policies on crime and immigration, which many tend to blame for their own social decline.

Europe’s mainstream center-left parties seem at a loss to bring these groups back into the fold without losing other key voter segments such as gays, Muslims, women and the progressive, educated middle classes.

There it is, folks. Muslims are a key voting sector in Europe.

And as we have seen just recently, in Denmark and the Netherlands, for two recent examples, they tend to be a most undesirable group: over-represented in crime, welfare and not much to write home about on education and employment rates.

[Note: I changed the chart in the Denmark post, so it is now in English.  The article contains some very damning statistics.]

I take strong issue, however, with the Reuters article’s “profile” of these disenchanted voters:

UKIP’s anti-immigration and anti-establishment message is drawing a distinct profile of core voter: “Blue-collar, old, white and male, with few qualifications and a very pessimistic economic outlook.”

I am female, was a professional worker all my life, although I am white and, yes, old. And something of a pessimist.  But if my memory serves me,  I have read more than one study suggesting that pessimists tend to have a more realistic view of life.

How anyone can possibly be pro-Muslim immigration after reading all the grim statistics on how poorly they do as immigrants is beyond me.

To be fair, both the Denmark article and my personal experience in BC suggests that far east Asians make good immigrants.