Social Europe: is it worth fighting for? That was the theme of the Fabian Society conference held in London in February. In her keynote speech Labour’s Shadow Europe Minister Emma Reynolds stated: “The presidential election in France in May presents a great opportunity for Francois Hollande to spark a revival of the centre left in Europe. Only then will social democrats have the chance to start shaping the debate about Social Europe and return Europe back to growth and prosperity.”
Well the two rounds of the French Presidential election have come and gone and indeed Hollande has emerged triumphant. It is understandable that because of the stature of the French Presidency this victory is seen as the great beacon of revival those on the progressive left have been seeking. However in truth the revival started here in Gibraltar in December and has since taken in Andalucía and now France.
In December the voters of Gibraltar returned a GSLP led coalition with the Liberals, the sort of progressive alliance many in the British Labour Party have only dreamed of. Ousted was a centre right administration that had ruled Gibraltar for nearly 16 years. I use the term ruled deliberately because the GSD didn’t govern for the people but ruled for its elite.
In came Fabian Picardo as Chief Minister, a then 39-year-old winning at the first time of asking: a feat never achieved before in Gibraltar politics. It would be a mistake to believe that the victory of the GSLP only reverberated around the streets of the Rock. It also raised cheers amongst the embattled Labour family in the UK.
When I met with Labour Party officials at the then HQ in Victoria Street close to Parliament in January and February they delighted in telling me of the response generated when they took the news of the GSLP victory to National Executive and other top committee meetings. It was not just greeted with murmurings of approval but cheers and clapping. The GSLP is a sister party of Labour but is also ‘de la familia’: it brought fresh hope to Miliband and his team.
After the drubbing PSOE received in Spain last May at the local and regional elections and then again in November at the general election when a triumphant Rajoy and his arrogant PP cohorts took power, who, yes who would have thought the socialists would have held on to Andalucía in March’s election against all the odds.
The left alliance of PSOE and the Izquierda Unida won 59 seats against the PP’s 50 as the centre right party’s lead in the polls collapse after the briefest honeymoon in political history. So what started in Gibraltar in December crossed into Andalucía in March and in May has moved on to France. The centre left, which I have been arguing all along in the Morning Star and London Progressive Journal never went away, is back and on the march.
In France on Sunday Francois Hollande was elected the next president of France with just under 52 per cent of the vote. He is the first socialist president since Francois Mitterrand was elected in 1995. Nicolas Sarkozy was the first incumbent president not to establish a lead after the first round of voting and also the first since 1981 not to secure a second term.
In his victory speech Hollande said he was “proud to have been capable of giving people hope again” and will honour his pledge to refocus EU efforts away from austerity and on to growth. “Europe is watching us, austerity can no longer be the only option.” Those will be the headlines in the coming days – but don’t forget this much talked about socialist revival started here in Gibraltar.