Berlin election highlights AfD’s growing influence
The Right-wing party has become an unwanted kingmaker in Germany
From gay officials to net-zero proposals, Berlin has often been a bellwether for wider trends in Germany. The election of a new conservative mayor on Thursday — the first in more than two decades — might well be an indicator of how the country is governed going forward.
For those who missed it, Berlin had to rerun local elections in February, after the city government botched the original process in the autumn of 2021. Although the centre-Left coalition retained enough seats to rule, after a long internal debate and a vote among its members Berlin’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) decided to ditch both the Left and the Greens for a coalition with the centre-Right Christian Democratic Union (CDU). This was a direct consequence of the party leadership realising that they have shifted too far to the Left, losing ground especially in the working-class districts of Berlin which are economically Left-leaning but culturally conservative.
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But that’s not all. The AfD (Alternative for Germany) declared its support for the new mayor Kai Wegner before the final vote, an awkward outcome given that the other parties had previously vowed not to cooperate with the Right-wingers or lean on its members for votes. The mere suggestion of help from the party — whose youth wing was this week labelled an “extremist group that threatens the constitution” by Germany’s domestic intelligence agency — could be electorally harmful.
What all of this shows, however, is that, despite suspicions of extremism, the AfD’s influence is growing. In the state of Tühringen, recent polls have the party in an indisputable lead, and at a federal level it is becoming entrenched as the third largest party with 16% support, ahead of the Greens (14.5%) and within striking distance of the Social Democrats (20%).
Ironically, the supposedly reactionary party has in some areas successfully anticipated changes in public attitudes. For one thing, the AfD has always been the most pro-nuclear political force in Germany — even when the stance was unpopular. At a time when most Germans worry about the cost of living, and as they are becoming increasingly critical of climate activism, the political fringe often finds itself more in sync with popular opinion than the moderate parties.
This is not only true for Social Democrats, but also for the CDU. It has not been forgotten that many problems, from migration to the phasing out of nuclear energy, started under the chancellorship of Angela Merkel. The AfD might be ostracised, but it is often perceived as the only truly conservative party, not to mention the most effective use of a protest vote. This could turn out to be a powerful combination in future elections. It’s worth remembering that in the early 2000s both the SPD and CDU had vote shares in the high 30s, compared to 20% (SPD) and 27.5% (CDU/CSU) today.
Berlin encapsulates the idea that if governments are incapable of reacting to swings in public sentiment and create an impression of incompetence, it is alternative parties which stand to benefit. In recent years trust in all political institutions has dropped significantly, and there are no indicators that this trend will be reversed any time soon. The next federal elections are scheduled for October 2025 — and if Berlin is any indicator we can expect both a rerun of the grand coalition and the AfD providing headaches as the largest opposition party. In their role as parliamentary mischief-makers, they will only gain further influence.
When you write “unwanted kingmaker” you are saying that the current ruling class don’t like it. What’s that thing about calling a spade a spade?
This needs to be read alongside another of today’s pieces Six in ten UK voters feel politically homeless.
A conservative party like AfD can have an effect, and so can Reform, even under FPTP. I’m certain that Cameron wouldn’t have called a referendum if he hadn’t felt himself being outflanked by UKIP. He thought he could neuter them, and it rebounded into his own lap.
True, but under FPTP any new right wing force has to box very clever indeed. The danger of Reform’s approach, of fielding candidates in every constituency, is that it enables the incumbent centre-right party to say that the insurgents are “splitting the conservative vote”. Far better, then, to target some hundred seats – red wall, blue wall, don’t knows – and thereby open up three options: a) influence through coalition; b) frightening the incumbents into a rightwards shift; c) the gradual replacement of the official Conservative party, much as Labour replaced the Liberals. The Tice way reflects nothing but anger and guarantees failure.
I’m not sure today’s Tory party can be called ‘centre-right’. They certainly don’t seem to want to conserve anything specific.
I take your point, but the advantage of standing in every seat is that it gives all centre-right voters something to come out for. With only a so-called Conservative on offer, they might just as well stay home.
The SNP were a fringe party for their first four decades, then in the seventies they grew into the dominant party, even under FPTP.
And I take your point with regard to today’s Conservative party. I suppose I refer to it as “centre-right” in terms of elite politics, not in terms of the real spectrum – partly for reasons of expressive convenience.
Addressing your comparison with the SNP, again point taken, but with this proviso – the time in which that party was rising to the fore was not the same as the turbulent, transformational period in which we find ourselves today. Therefore, it could afford a long period of failure. Nor was its success guaranteed, so the same recipe may well not work again. On the other hand, we may say with certainty that in four decades of right wing civil war we will see four decades of left wing government, by which time there will be nothing left to conserve.
Surely the point to recall is this: that freedom is never absolute and we are always the prisoners of circumstance. It is only by accepting this and addressing ourselves to that circumstance that we may hope to achieve something. Our circumstance is a) FPTP; b) a choice meanwhile between bad and worse; c) a duty to opt for bad whilst hoping that better – by gradual means (the only available means) – comes to our rescue in time.
Thank you – a fine answer.
Thank you, dear sir – a most enjoyable exchange of views.
The AfD is an interesting party, often for the wrong reasons. They are fighting an uphill battle and have the hardest job of any right wing party. For too long we have been indoctrinated to see all true right wing parties as Nazis who will seize power and remove our liberties. The biggest problem with this thought is that our liberties have been ever so slowly removed from us and the indoctrination is suble and widespread. The left is playing a long game and they are playing it brilliantly. My hats off to them.
However, the logic of the base values of the right do shine through once given a chance to st back and think of it. And I don’t mean the far right who are a bunch of hate filled crazies. The base logic goes for any country.
A political party in Germany that supports Germans in Germany. Anyone who thinks that this is bad is a bigoted a***hole!
What is wrong with saying there is nothing wrong with “A German party in Germany defending Germans!”
It is not the end of democracy, just part of the ongoing. Most of us struggle with political parties like the AfD and I do not give the Australian equivalent the time of day. Admit it, we have all been programmed to have a disgust reaction against such parties.
My previous comment contained nothing dangerous.
AfD has been right about nearly everything since its inception but 14 years ago.
Most people in Europe (inc. the UK) are culturally conservative. AfD is the one party in Germany which embodies those sentiments.
To call their youth wing ‘an extremist group which threatens the constitution’ is Oligoply-speak for ‘this horrible force which wants what the public wants’ – and in my view correctly desires.
Nearly all long-established parties in the Occidental democracies nowadays, being owned by big money and providing government which obliges those overlords, are like theatre critics concerning the latest show on Broadway when they lament ‘Nobody likes it except the public’.
The AfD is not a “kingmaker.” Whoever wrote the sub-head evidently doesn’t know the meaning of the word, or the current facts of German politics.
Given that the Berlin Abgeordnetenhaus was not able to elect Kai Wegner as Bürgermeister by simple majority until the third attempt, despite the fact that the coalition negotiated between CDU and SPD should theoretically have given them a total of 86 seats out of 159, it rather does look as though that the AfD’s support on that third vote (should they be telling the truth) may well have been crucial. So ‘kingmaker’ seems a not wholly inappropriate term.
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