Web access has raised individual self-sufficiency to unprecedented levels;
what happens to the community when we no longer require one?
As I write, France will decide what type of leader and country it wants for the next five years. But the implications will stretch beyond that timeframe; the Presidential ‘second tour’ will be contested between the nationalist Front National’s candidate, Marine Le Pen, and Emmanuel Macron, leader of En Marche, the party he founded just four years ago.
For the first time since the Second World War, no candidate from France’s principle national parties from the Left and Right have qualified for the second round. The fate of the Socialist Party is particularly pronounced; France’s centre/left Parti Socialiste (currently in Government) secured only 6% of the national vote in the first round; this compares to 24% for Macron and 23% for Le Pen.
The Socialist Party’s decline in France perfectly mirrors that in the UK and Spain. The UK Prime Minister’s call for a ‘snap’ election in June is an opportunistic response to this trend. The UK Labour Party lost nearly 26,000 members since mid-2016, according to some reports; many of them turning to the nationalist UK Independence Party behind Brexit1. At the end of last year, polls recorded a drop of 24% for the Labour Party2; if this is reflected in June’s polls, it would mark its lowest share of the vote since 1918.
The Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) has lost its leader following a catastrophic series of elections (and reelections) after which they ended up ceding any influence over a ‘hung’ parliament back to the incumbent center/right Partido Popular. PSOE’s former leader even admits that his party is longer considered the principle opposition party in Spain3.
The fall of Europe’s traditional centre/left parties reflects a decline in their traditional base – the so-called ‘working class’ – but also the degree to which citizens actually rely on a community to survive and prosper. Today, the ubiquity of services online, the shared economy, services on-demand etc. have rendered the role and need for a community less critical. Paris, for instance, has the highest and most concentrated level of single occupancy apartments in the world; one-in-four Parisians lives alone4.
This – in part is cultural – but I can’t help associating the increasing levels of self-reliance with a decline in community. This sense is confirmed by the proportion of people, not merely glued to their mobile phones in the street, but attached to headphones as if to detach themselves from the ‘kinetic’ reality of the real world.
The benefits of Web access are undeniable, particularly in emerging and developing markets where citizens are enjoying the benefits of information and services for the first time. In Europe, however, I’m seeing another side of the coin; Europe’s cult of individualism – a level of detachment, a decline in the sense of community and collectivity.
Affordable, on-demand services are a wonderful and welcome development if they render citizens more informed, prosperous and autonomous. But surely not at the cost of a sense of physical community, looking out for each other, and considering those around us. This is the challenge facing Europe’s socialist parties; if the traditional sense of community has become irrelevant, we need to replace it with a new sense.