If someone had told me only last Summer that Germany’s newest political party, the Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany) would be the official opposition party in Germany by this Spring, I would have wondered what drugs they were taking.
But this seems very likely to become the case. We will find out for sure on 4th March when the results of the SPD (Labour) Party’s membership ballot on participation in the Conservative/Labour Grand Coalition is due to be announced. If the AfD does become Germany’s Opposition it will be a remarkable achievement for a party that didn’t even exist just a few short years ago. What lessons can we in UKIP learn from the AfD’s outstanding success?
Of course, the AfD has had a big advantage over UKIP in that the German electoral system — unlike that in the UK — is actually specifically designed to respond to the freely expressed will of the people and to return mandated MPs reflecting the popular vote as closely as possible and in an equitable proportion.
The first past the post system in the UK is designed to do just the opposite, and serves simply to protect and defend the hegemony and incumbency of the two largest parties — raising two fingers in the general direction of the electorate. There can be no starker illustration of this than the fact that both UKIP and the AfD polled exactly the same percentage (12.6%) in the UK General Election 2015 and the German General Election 2017 respectively, and that both polled the third largest share of the popular vote in each of these elections. As we know only too well UKIP was rewarded with just one MP for almost four million votes, whereas the AfD surged from having no MPs, to becoming the third largest force in the Bundestag (Parliament) with 94 MPs.
Things have not been easy though. Like UKIP the AfD has suffered from infighting, and had infiltrators and members who have uttered extreme and unacceptable statements which brought the party into disrepute, necessitating their expulsion and all the rest of it.
Additionally, a former leader who was also one of the party’s founders defected after having been elected to the Bundestag in last year’s General Election and founded her own rival party, ( although of course she didn’t resign her seat and offer herself for re-election.)
Furthermore, Germany’s established political parties have conspired to work against the AfD, repeatedly calling them Nazis, childishly refusing to sit next to them in Parliament and rudely chatting amongst themselves when AfD members are speaking in parliamentary debates. They even went so far as to rewrite long-established parliamentary rules of procedure so that an AfD member could not be the Father of the House and in the Chair when Parliament reconvened after the General Election!
To this end, before the last Parliament was dissolved the retiring Speaker, (who was from the CDU, Merkel’s party), changed the rules so that the longest-serving rather than the oldest member would be given that honour. The only previous time that this has happened in almost 150 years was in 1933 when the manipulation was done by Hermann Goering, immediately after the Nazis came to power in the Reichstag!
Now despite all provocations and manipulations, in spite of the lack of co-operation and the sending to Coventry of an entire political party, it seems possible that one of the AfD leaders will soon become Leader of the Opposition, and that there is nothing that Germany’s established political parties can do about it. They know that with fresh elections they will perform even more badly than last year and that they — the German Conservative, Labour and LibDems would not then even be able to form a Grand Coalition, thus letting the AfD not just into Opposition, but into the German Government itself.
This is borne out by the opinion polls in Germany. These show losses by the three establishment parties and gains by each of the AfD, the Greens and the far left Linke — with the SPD, Germany’s Labour Party, currently half a percentage point BEHIND the AfD in the very latest opinion poll, catapulting the AfD into an unbelievable second place after the CDU/CSU Union, and pushing the SPD into an unprecedented third place in the rankings.
So the moral of the story is this. Things may seem bleak for UKIP but they are looking up. We have ditched a Leader who was a liability and a laughing stock. We can rebuild and regroup. From now on the only way is up. We need to gain the confidence of the public once more and show them, as the AfD has shown the German electorate that only we speak for the man and woman in the street.
The parallels between the two countries are uncanny — in both of them, a discredited Conservative Prime Minister has moved her party to the centre-left and yet is propped up by a religious right-wing fundamentalist party from one of the country’s most particularistic regions. In Germany’s case this is the Christian Social Union, which functions as a kind of Bavarian DUP, Catholic rather than Protestant, but fond of parades and marches just the same — except that in the CSU’s case the Orange sashes, bowler hats and fifes and drums of the DUP are replaced with Lederhosen, green felt hats with outsize feathers and oompah bands — but I think you get the message.
Both May and Merkel are so remote from voters’ concerns and daily lives, and so afraid of the ballot box that they will ally themselves and break bread with almost anyone to avoid electoral Armageddon.
Therein lies UKIP’s opportunity. We must now re-group, re-focus, reform and renew, and under our new Leadership give the British people the choice and the Alternative voice for the UK that they so richly deserve.
Richard Ford is Chairman of UKIP Gloucester and Chairman of UKIP Gloucestershire.
He stood as UKIP Parliamentary Candidate for Gloucester in the 2015 General Election.