Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 October 2013
This chapter maps out the challenges facing social democratic parties deriving from the labour market and welfare state – areas in which the centre-left has traditionally built its organisational and electoral strength. The principal argument is that equality – which Kitschelt (1999), referring to the rise of ‘left-libertarianism’, argued would have to be played down in social democratic aspirations and strategies – has returned as the biggest issue facing social democratic renewal.
Although ‘left-libertarianism’ is now a well-established feature of the political landscape in Western countries, traditional distributive class politics are still extant – but in a form that social democrats find increasingly difficult to exploit. Growing levels of inequality pose broader challenges to democracy in terms of trust in institutions and the growing appeal of ‘anti-system’ parties (Schäfer 2010). Social democratic parties face their greatest challenges in countries where income inequality is increasingly connected with inequality of access to secure employment and welfare entitlements.
Part one considers the particular problems facing social democratic parties in coping with socio-economic change and engaging in labour market and welfare state reform. It also sets out a framework specifying the socioeconomic and political-strategic challenges to social democratic parties. Part two considers in greater detail how social democratic parties are confronting – or failing to confront – those challenges across Europe's different welfare state regimes.