Populism has tested the ability of mainstream parties to adapt and some on the centre-right are regaining their footing. That cannot be said of the traditional left. It gravitated towards the middle ground in the 1990s, and then paid a price for selling out. But a pendulum swing to 1970s-style radical ideology has been shown to be just as out of sync with the times.
This year ends with the humiliation of the Labour Party in the UK’s 12 December election and Germany’s Social Democrats more unpopular than at any time in living memory. In Italy and Spain, the centre-left are in government only thanks to precarious alliances with the anti-establishment groups that grew from the 2008 financial crisis.
For Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, the malaise runs deep, indeed as far back as the Cold War era of the early 1970s. “There has not been a charismatic and genuine left-wing leader who made a true difference in Europe since Willy Brandt”, who won a Nobel prize for building bridges between east and west and paving the way for German reunification.