It is over 18 months since Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, in a deeply prescient piece, announced that the World could be only “two or three bad elections” away from the end of NATO, the EU and maybe the “liberal world order as we know it”. So, with the German Federal election safety negotiated, can we listen again to the REM track with the same sense of amused detachment? Sadly, no.
If Applebaum accurately mapped the road to power of Trump, the possibility of UK Brexit (and Corbyn) and the rise of the Front Nationale in France, why was she wrong about the bad elections? In truth, the erosion of support for ‘liberal’ world order supporting majority parties continues at pace. As stated here previously, we are reliving the 1930s politics and it isn’t pretty.
In 2013, the conservative CDU/CSU, the social democratic SPD and the pro-business Liberal FDP, (who have contributed to all governments since normal service was resumed) polled 72.0% of the popular vote. Their share was 81.4% in 2009. Yesterday, these parties polled only 64.1%.
The key change was the 8% growth in support for the nationalist AfD. This put it over the threshold for parliamentary representation. The well-established minorities of the Greens and the Left put on fractions of a percent, whilst the pro-business FDP liberals added 6% too.
Where does this leave the ‘liberal’ mainstream consensus? Mutti Merkl’s CDU/CSU will lead the government – although with support below a third for the first time in the post-war era, her authority is eroded. With former coalition partners the SPD, retiring to lick their social democratic wounds, forming a coalition with the antipathetic Greens and the FDP will make Premier May’s negotiations with the DUP look like child’s play.
The only positive note of the SPD’s leaving the coalition is that by becoming the official opposition, it precludes the nationalist AfD from assuming the chairs of key scrutiny committees in the Bundestag.
So far, Applebaum’s score card is mixed. Whilst, the US voted for disrupting the liberal world order at every opportunity, Germany and France has, through very different routes, opted for the consensus. In the UK, we’re ambivalently checking out of the EU, whilst trying to retain or reconstruct all its advantages …
The outbreak of war in 1939, stopped the democratic clocks and the eventual outcome established the political and constitutional basis for our ‘liberal’ world order to emerge. Unless, an unhinged blowhard with a finger on the nuclear trigger intervenes (insert US/North Korean/etc. leader of choice here), the West has four to five years before it reruns these elections. Unless the world economy reboots by then, more elections could turn “bad”. A Trump or Pence candidacy will precede an embattled Macron re-election bid and a post-Merkl Germany. For ‘good’ results to occur, the progressive parties in each country will need to find credible candidates who can articulate coherent alternatives to isolationism and hatred.
Otherwise, it may be the end of the World order as we know it – and, just now, I don’t feel fine.