The German Federal Election saw Angela Merkel re-elected for a fourth term with her party winning 33% of the vote. Despite coming out on top, the Chancellor’s alliance between the Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU) returned their worst result since 1949.
Another party to see their poorest results in the post-war era was the Social Democrats (SPD), dropping their share of the vote to just 22%. They confirmed that they would go into opposition, moving out of a grand coalition they had been in with Merkel since the previous election. The move will also ensure that populist, right-wing Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) are not the largest opposition party.
For the Social Democrats, their approach, according to CNN, of replicating the economic populism of Jeremy Corbyn, ensured Schulz’s party ran Merkel close in the polls, however, like the Labour Party leader, they were unable to translate this into genuine electoral success.
Schulz is now the third in a line of white, male, 60-something socialists to have failed to win a major global election in the past 12 months. All three – Sanders, Corbyn and Schulz were able to amass large rallies and grassroots campaigns but all failed to accomplish what they set out to achieve.
This has set a worrying tone for social democrats across Europe, with Shadow Justice Minister Richard Burgon tweeting that “social democracy in Europe [was] in crisis”, though, perhaps rather optimistically, reminded that Labour were on top in the polls in the UK, though just by a point or two.
This mood is consistent among Corbynistas at conference affirming how “relieved” and “lucky” they feel to have Corbyn at the helm rather than the “insider” and “centrist” Schulz, a stark contrast to the outsider image that both Corbyn and Sanders portrayed. They believe that the current UK Labour Party has the “right kind” of social democracy.
It is evident that Labour will try and distance themselves somewhat from their German sister party’s demise, positioning themselves as not just a social democrat party, but as a socialist, and more importantly, an anti-austerity party.
Len McCluskey told a conference event today that 2017 was a “great advance for socialist policies” and that “the whingers and whiners say we didn’t win. I say we did win [the election]!” which neatly sums up the tone of what Corbyn supporters think about the crisis of social democracy – it just isn’t happening here, apparently.
However those on the more moderate side of the party have taken a more somber approach, Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer told a fringe event with the Party of European Socialists earlier today that the German election result “reminded us that it is not all straightforward”, a nod to the SPD’s rapid fall from grace.
Overall, what remains clear is that centre-left parties and candidates are currently struggling to convert their sizeable grassroots followings into the ability to get into governments and into the corridors of power.
By Harry Goodwin