The ALP in an international perspective

Rediscovering comparative politics

Andrew Scott

The Australian Labor Party is currently in opposition at the national level and has been for seven years. As such it is like most nominally left of centre parties in western nations. A 'swing to the right' has been reported in western Europe since the big rise in support for Jörge Haider's xenophobic Freedom Party in elections in Austria in October 1999, and that party's entry into a conservative led coalition government, which ended 30 years of social democrat led government in that nation. The 'swing to the right' in Europe has included: a rise in support for anti-immigration politicians in Switzerland in October 1999; the election of a conservative government in Spain in April 2000; the defeat of the left of centre 'Olive Tree' coalition and return of Silvio Berlusconi as Prime Minister of Italy in June 2001; the replacement of a Labor government with a conservative/christian democratic/liberal coalition government in Norway in September 2001, underpinning which the anti-immigration Progress Party holds the parliamentary balance of power; the election of a right of centre government to replace the social democratic government of Denmark in November 2001 and its subsequent enactment of the harshest immigration laws in Europe, in what has traditionally been one of the continent's most tolerant countries; the election of a moderate conservative coalition to replace the social democratic government of Portugal in March 2002; the defeat of the Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin and the strong showing of the neo fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen in the Presidential election in France in March April 2002; and the surge in support for the party of assassinated populist Pirn Fortuyn in the Netherlands election in May 2002, which helped end eight years in office of a left led (Labour Party coalition) government in that country.

Against this trend however has been the fact that a socialist government remains in office in Greece; that Sweden's social democratic government was re elected in September 2002 and that in the same month the social democrat Gerhard Schroeder was re elected as German Chancellor on a platform opposed to the United States(US) led war with Iraq (as well as to US style economic policy). And, although French voters put Le Pen ahead of the Socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in the first round of voting in the presidential election, they then - shocked at what the accumulated effect of miscellaneous protest votes had done - marginalised Le Pen in the second round in October 2002, rallying behind the more mainstream candidate of the Right, Jacques Chirac, on a platform of moderation. The mainstream party of the Right in Austria (the People's Party) did likewise in 2002 to Haider's Freedom Party following the strong, Europe wide reaction against Haider's party's entry into government in 1999. The Austrian Social Democratic Party's vote also rose in the November 2002 elections, although not sufficiently for it to return to government. Further, the rightist coalition government elected in the Netherlands quickly collapsed, in October 2002, after 'Fortuyn's List' fragmented, and a new election was held in January 2003 in which the Labour Party's vote rebounded to the point where serious discussions occurred about it entering into coalition government with the other major party, the Christian Democrats. The unprecedented election of the Workers' Party's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva ('Lula') as President of Brazil in October 2002 is also worthy of note in any balanced discussion of recent international political trends. It should a