It seems the Germans are not yet ready for a change.
The Chancellor, Gerhard Schroder managed to scare the electorate by proclaiming Angela Merkel’s CDU party would spell the end for Germany’s cosy social model. As a result, the CDU collapsed in the polls in the last weeks of campaigning.
The fact is he’s right. Germany’s social model is at risk from the (fairly modest) reforms proposed by the CDU. Nevermind the fact that the difficulty of firing employees makes it extremely risky for a firm to hire, so unemployment is around 10%. Those who have jobs remain the majority of voters, and they’re loathe to give up the protection that a freer “Anglo-Saxon” model would sweep away. Most of the electorate seem to want reform, but are unsure and afraid as to the shape this will take. Thus the “Grand Coalition” is favoured by much of the electorate as exemplifying the German consensual political style.
It was the ability of Mr. Schroeder to portray Professor Paul Kirchoff as a robber-baron who would tax the poor more than the rich (thus totally mis-representing the benefits of a flat tax) which changed the tone of the election, from a shoe-in for Angela Merkel, to a hung parliament.
Whilst the British Electoral system is inherently unfair to my favoured party, It has been unfair in the past to the other lot. It is perpetually unfair to the wooly in-betweens, which is a good thing. At present, Joschka Fischer’s greens can effectively choose the next chancellor, giving a casting vote to just 8.1% of the electorate. It is this position that the Liberal Democrats want to maneuver themselves to in the UK. The UK should resist Proportional Representation (PR) in all its forms, for all types of election, and instead attempt to address the inconsistencies in the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system.
The strong government, plus the relationship to local MPs, who can and do raise parochial issues in Westminster, are the benefit of the FPTP system, and this shouldn’t be cast aside lightly. The system does tend to create results that are rarely disputed, and more often than not reflect the will of the people of the UK in all its contrary inconsistency.
The fact is coalitions in the UK are WITHIN parties, not between them. Thus the electorate knows what shape the government might be with each vote (even the wasted ones for the Lib-Dems). I feel a pang of pity for the German voter, who casts a ballot for a party, and then has to watch the post-election horse-trading. He might vote green and watch them get into bed with the CDU… an unlikely result, but unwelcome to the average green voter. Would those who voted for Ms. Merkel’s reforms be happy with a sorry, stagnant “Grand Coalition”
If you want an even more eloquent argument for FPTP, look at Italy’s parliament since the War. PR leads to chaos and stagnation or cosy compromise (or worse, both!). It prevents parliamentarians exercising Leadership when necessary and puts too much emphasis on back-room deals between politicos. This leads to the situation where a political elite can hold and excersise opinions vastly at variance from their electorate, often for decades, and face no electoral punishment. This has been the case in much of Western Europe for two decades on some issues. In the end, this is less democratic than brutal, winner takes all politics of Westminster. *Cartoon by Roger Schmidt