Throw the Bums Out!
Why the Green Left will Lose most of the 2024 Elections
Growing up in Canada, I learned an important political reality. People rarely vote for ideals and leaders they are attracted to. Rather, they vote out the bums they are fed up with. And after years of lockdowns, food and energy inflation, wars and economic disparities, many voters are indeed fed up.
In 2024, more than three billion people will vote, not so much on who will lead them but more on how they have been led. It is widely anticipated to be a year of change for governments and institutions from Washington to Brussels, from London to Jakarta. (OK… maybe the status quo have secured their nests in Russia and India where politics is tied to cult leaders.)
Defining the “Left” in politics is difficult to do with any precision. It ranges from social democrats to socialists to communists – parties with a focus on unions, labor rights and social justice. While political spectrums vary according to culture, history, economy and events (the word “liberal” is fluid), the recent rise of green, ecologically-oriented political movements have co-opted most left-wing organizations. This shift will have serious political consequences in 2024.
In upcoming elections in Western democracies, why is a shift to the right on the political spectrum so widely expected? Why are so many predicting a sizeable shift to the extreme right? Where have the left-wing leaders failed? Has their shift to green policies disillusioned their traditional constituents?
Challenging Global Events
There have been significant global events over the last two to three years that have impacted local communities. These have had considerable effects on people’s lives, creating hardships that many governments have not adequately addressed.
Economy: Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, many western economies had amassed higher debts while releasing more liquidity into the markets. The resultant inflation and rising interest rates have pressed consumers, mortgage holders, markets and perceptions of wealth. Those with money did well; most without will be voting.
Food and Energy: The war in Ukraine has created additional stress on food and energy prices in countries previously reliant on Russian imports. Farmers, meanwhile, are struggling to fill the gap given rising economic costs, environmental regulatory restrictions and market pressures. As farmers across Europe are protesting, some of their difficulties are being better understood.
Free Trade: After decades of progressively opening up markets to free trade, now restrictions, tariffs and protectionism have returned with a vengeance. As controls on access to basic materials are now affecting global supply chains, jobs and manufacturing are suffering. Global trade has been exacerbated by wars bringing in sanctions and restricted trade routes.
Climate Change: Global activist groups and foundations have focused political debate on fighting climate change. Binding obligations from international agreements have led to restrictive policies affecting local economies. Energy companies have had to introduce rotating power cuts, industries are relocating energy-intensive production lines to countries with more reliable energy supplies while climate-friendly alternatives are widely seen to be of inferior quality.
There are other factors affecting local political environments (immigration, corruption, religious disputes…) but these recent global events have shaped the political arena, notably in Western democracies.
Left-wing Solutions: Green Transitions
How have the left-leaning political parties responded to these global events? In almost all cases, their stress on ecological (green) policies have increased consumer hardships (and voters have come to realize their solutions are not in their best interests).
On the economy, left-wing leaders are blaming capitalism and corporate greed for the recent problems. Their policies include more restrictions on industry, limiting their capacity to create innovative solutions, consumer products and employment. Degrowth activists are building a world of conscious capitalists, guided by ESG principles to argue that less is better. Voters see this as an affluent dogma imposed on them by out of touch rich people.
Food and energy solutions, for the left, have been to speed up the transition to green alternatives. This counter-intuitive response to consumer hardships has provoked outrage. The green food-system transition, which demands growing more organic food, eating less meat and buying local, has pushed prices even higher while creating less access to lower quality food supplies. On energy, promoting an overly ambitious transition to renewables like wind and solar has created energy poverty in once affluent countries like Germany or the UK. And while electricity supplies are unstable, nuclear energy sites are being decommissioned.
Free trade has always been a challenge for left-wing parties fighting to defend high union wages in competitive markets. The more radical left see global trade agreements and organizations like the WTO as promoting capitalism, inequality and injustice. Their ideal of transitioning to small, local production facilities, community finance and a degrowth-focused economy does not give consumers many opportunities for prosperity.
Fighting climate change may provide leaders with opportunities for a righteous nobility, but implementing climate transitions at the speed activists are demanding is creating hardship, shortages and poverty. Consumers are paying more for food and energy and getting less. Unwelcome diktats from the affluent to eat less meat, use less energy, stop flying and consume less have only irritated people now preparing to vote. Fossil fuel alternatives, like electric vehicles, are seen to be impractical, too expensive and unwanted by most people with limited means.
In all of these cases, consumers have been told they would have to change; as voters, they are planning to impose their own change.
Less Ideology, More Realpolitik
Realpolitik is political pragmatism – the ability to make compromises to achieve the best possible solution given the difficult circumstances. Since the end of the Cold War though, Realpolitik has been a term (and a practice) rarely used in a political world with leaders benefitting from a peace dividend allowing them more freedom to pursue policies in line with their ideologies.
Zealots and ideologues are incapable of compromising. They are driven by a passion to achieve their objectives. A green activist will push forward ideals unconcerned about the consequences it will have on populations (or quite often, the negative environmental effects as well). They consider any policy compromise as failure – a momentary interruption in their campaign process. At a certain point, their emotionally-driven objectives take over. It is more about winning their campaign rather than reaching the best possible solution for all parties.
Left-wing activists are blinded by these campaign objectives and too often don’t see the bigger (political) picture. As most of their constituents are going to be voting in 2024, they see the rise of their opponents as due to some misleading actions or corrupting of the system (lobbyists). They do not see it as a consequence of them pushing their restrictive policies too hard against public interests, of not compromising and of not tolerating other interests.
As passionate left-wing, green ideologues have not tolerated those who disagree with them, have not considered slowing their transition campaigns, have not considered the costs and hardships their dogma is imposing, should anyone be surprised that voters are no longer tolerating them. With economic and social difficulties mounting on the horizon, there is a need for less ideology and more Realpolitik.
It’s the economy, stupid!