The results of Germany’s elections are not just interesting because they produced a centre-right majority and saw the tax-cutting FDP increase their share of the vote. They are also worth noting for the fact that, even following an economic crisis for which ‘capitalism’ has taken much of the blame, the main party of the left, the SDP, had its worst election since World War II.
Obviously, the reasons for this could well be particular to Germany, and have no wider relevance. The fact that the SDP have for the past four years been in an uncomfortable coalition with the centre-right CDU certainly makes one wary of generalising.
But there may be implications for the UK in Germany’s election, even if they should be taken with a pinch of salt. One is in the way Germany’s political left has fractured, with the Greens and the socialist Left Party getting 11 and 12 percent of the vote respectively, compared with the SDP’s 23 percent. Could the same thing happen in Britain?
Perhaps not while our first-past-the-post voting system endures. But there could still be a damaging split on the horizon for the UK’s Labour Party. As William Rees-Mogg wrote in the Mail yesterday, many Blairites already feel closer to the Social Democrat wing of the Lib Dems than to their party leadership. If Labour reacts to electoral defeat by swinging back to the left – as seems likely given the financial and constitutional power of the unions – it is not inconceivable that they would jump ship.
For what it’s worth, I think the German results also indicate how different British party politics would be if we had proportional representation. It’s unlikely that Labour or the Lib Dems would survive such a change in their current forms. We would probably end up with the Conservatives and UKIP to the right, a (very) small liberal party in the centre, and a new ‘Social Democrat Party’ and a hard-line Old Labour–Green alliance on the left.
P.S. I’m not advocating proportional representation. I’m just suggesting one of the ways it would change things.