September 27, 2021 - 2:00pm

Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD) have just won their first federal election in nearly twenty years (just). So expect yesterday’s big result to be spun into a narrative of social democratic revival. 

After the grim years of ‘Pasokification’ the traditional parties of the centre-Left are back! And it’s not just Germany — just look at the Norwegian general election earlier this month.

However, the narrative doesn’t really stand up. Let’s start with Germany. The SPD result wasn’t bad by 21st century standards — they won 25.7% of the vote, compared to shares for the previous three elections of 20.5%, 25.7% and 23.0%. However, by the standards of the later 20th century — when the SPD was one of only two major parties, yesterday’s result was abysmal. 

It was also a bit of a fluke. Until a few months ago, the SPD was heading for its worst result since the war. The only thing that saved their speck was that both the Christian Democrats and the Greens chose terrible candidates for the Chancellorship — leaving the SPD’s Olaf Scholz to succeed by default. They were also helped by the fact that the German parties of populist Right and Left are in disarray.

As for Norway, the social democrats actually lost votes in this month’s general election. They remain the largest party, but their likely coalition partners in government will be two eurosceptic parties — the agrarian Centre Party and the Socialist Left. 

Meanwhile in Iceland — which had its general election on Saturday — both the Left and centre-Left lost ground and the government will remain strongly eurosceptic. 

Look elsewhere in Europe and evidence of a social democratic revival is also thin on the ground. In this year’s Dutch general election, the once mighty Labour Party stayed stuck on less than 6% of the vote (despite the decline of rival Left-wing parties).

This doesn’t mean that the parties of the mainstream centre-Right are doing brilliantly either. In many countries they too are doing badly. Who then has benefited from the meltdown of the traditional Left-versus-Right party system? 

There’s no clear pattern. Depending on the country it may be a combination of one or some of the following: populists, separatists, Leftists, liberals, centrists, greens and ‘pirate’ parties. The system is in constant flux and we should expect the unexpected — see the recent election of an anti-vax party in Austria. 

The only thing we can be sure about is that politics is not going back to normal — whatever that was. 

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.