This week began with the news that Michelle Bachelet had beaten Alianza’s Evelyn Matthei to be elected President of Chile. Bachelet, who was running for the New Majority – a coalition of left and centre-left political parties – won 62% of the vote, and will formally take on the role in March 2014. She was previously President between 2006 and 2010, spending the interim period as the head of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.
Bachelet’s landslide victory means she now has a greater mandate than in her previous term in office. She has promised to increase corporation tax and improve state education. With Chile currently standing bottom of the 34 nation OECD inequality index, there is a strong feeling in the country that fairer policies are required. Widespread frustration with the lack of opportunities for ordinary people – despite a sustained period of growth – was one of the core reasons or the unpopularity of the previous incumbent, the centre-right Sebastián Piñera. “We’ve never been better positioned than now to make reforms,” said one left-leaning Senator.
The election also has a fascinating personal dimension. Matthei and Bachelet were playmates at a military base in the 1970s. However, the two women’s fathers – who supported and opposed General Pinchet respectively – had radically different fates, with Matthei’s promoted but Bachelet’s tortured to death. In spite of this, relations between the two women are said to be amicable.
As an advocate of a bigger role for women of all political colours, it was fantastic to observe an all-female contest. And I was of course delighted to see such an overwhelming endorsement of progressive values by the electorate. For growth to be sustainable social capital must keep pace with economic capital.
The electoral outcome in Chile marks a final closure on the horrors of the Pinochet regime, and a move towards a more open and equal era for the country. It reminds us that, while this may have been a year dominated in Britain by headlines about Ukip, immigration and London’s housing bubble, progressive values still have the capacity to triumph.
As we move into a European Election year we must be sure to remember this. Reports this weekend pointed to a potential collapse in funding for UK charities thanks to the Conservatives’ decision to withdraw from justice and home affairs programmes. Organisations focusing on, among other things, child safety, sexual bullying, and family support are expected to lose vital EU grants, and Jago Russell, head of Fair Trials International, said his charity might have to “relocate to another country”.
This is the just the latest in a string of stories showing the flaws in the Euro-sceptic argument. Pessimism and fear-mongering by those on the right have allowed reactionary arguments to gain traction, but we should not forget that being in Europe allows Britain to be a fairer, safer country. As the debate about the ‘European Question’ builds in the run-up to the elections in May, we must make a positive and progressive case for Europe.
Season’s Greetings to everyone reading this, and I look forwards to writing again in 2014.