The exit of the Free Democrats [FDP] from the German Parliament for the first time since World War II is not just an unforeseen consequence of the spectacular success of Angela Merkel. It is a significant setback for European Liberalism, even if our German counterparts have for a generation been outriders on the right of the Liberal spectrum.
Some detailed polling [German language] shows the significant movement of votes from the FDP to the Christian Democrats [CDU/CSU]. One significant difference to note here is that the UK Conservatives are notably more right-wing on the economy and environment than their German counterparts in particular, but broadly more liberal on social issues; this has arguably helped shunt the FDP into a cul-de-sac where they are seen as uncomfortably close to some business interests. The trouble for them, though, is threefold: they:
- Are too closely tied to being a coalition partner of one party: a ‘functional’ role not rooted in Liberal values, ever since their early 1980s decision to abandon the Social Democrats.
- Have no real identification as to what they stand for (their record on civil liberties is weak, and their influence since the time of Hans-Dietrich Genscher on foreign policy has waned) and are seen instead as representing particular interests.
- Failed to deliver key pledges in Government.
The polling also shows their current leadership is significantly less popular than their former leader Guido Westerwelle.
The views of former FDP voters on the FDP are stark:
- Promised a lot and has done almost none of it – 90%
- Cared too much about particular groups of voters – 82%
- Hasn’t influenced anything in the last few years – 74%.
Due to this and also their reliance on the German PR system which guarantees seats in Parliament to parties getting 5% of the national vote, their vote is thinly spread (no wins in the constituency vote for years) and they have no grassroots base. Increasingly their core vote has shifted too: and with a spate of disastrous results in regional parliamentary elections too, this result will see them losing much of the state funding on which they are reliant.
Critically (and perhaps the key lesson for the Liberal Democrats) it has been felt that the relatively strong German economic performance has been delivered by Frau Merkel without any discernible FDP input. In that case, voters have said, why bother with the FDP? A curious parallel with UK politics is that instead of praising the positive Liberal Democrat economic influence under Vince Cable, those associated with the Lib Dem leadership appear to have been undermining it.
To sum up: the parallels are not direct, but there are clear lessons for Liberals in the UK from the failures of their colleagues in Germany. Deliver your promises; keep an identity to your values and in particular on the economy; keep your party motivated….. or face oblivion.
For a good read in English, see http://www.dw.de/fdp-a-post-war-fixture-is-out-of-parliament/a-17106509. As a former resident of Berlin, I was pleased to see the failure of the anti-Europeans to secure 5% either.
* Not Schadenfreude, but self-defence
* Gareth Epps is a member of FPC and FCC, a member of the Fair Deal for your Local campaign coalition committee and is an active member of Britain’s largest consumer campaign, CAMRA. He claims to be marginally better at Aunt Sally than David Cameron, whom he stood against in Witney in 2001.