Only a few years ago, Western European socialists were wringing their hands at their prospects. Italy was run by a populist coalition with the right-wing Lega ascendent. Germany looked sure to fall further under the spell of the CDU, which faced a threat on the right from the AfD, while the French left were in disarray. Workers parties had collapsed from the Netherlands to Czechia, while right-wing parties had enjoyed new success across the continent.

Now, socialist tails are up. COVID has brought the interventionist state back into vogue: to many challenges of the day, government spending seems to be the answer. In 2020, even center-right governments moved spending agendas some say are fundamentally left-wing. Arguably, this is part of a great cycle of politics. Governments over-promise, the issues of the day change, new ideas (or rehashed old ones) seem needed: repeat ad-infinitum. The peak of the political right in Europe may have come around 2018: perhaps the pendulum is just swinging back.

Beneath the surface though, this trend has deeply idiosyncratic national characteristics. Denmark, a trailblazer in its switch left, elected a Social Democratic government in 2019; the price of power was a harsher immigration policy to fend off challenges from the right. Armin Laschet’s blundering helped the SPD in Germany as much as any left-wing renaissance. Outside of the new center-left wins meanwhile, there are plenty of places the left continues to struggle. Italy is en prise to a right-wing coalition praying for an election, Vox and the PP are polling strongly in Spain while the chances of the French left pulling itself together before presidential elections next year are slim, at best. There are cyclical issues at play across Europe, but the over-riding feature remains volatility as voters look for answers to vastly complex questions. Where that political volatility takes us, is harder to say, but it is likely to include complicated localised realignments, rather than a uniform swing back to the established left.