This year in politics threatens to be eventful. The British Government is set to trigger Article 50 on the 29th of March. The Netherlands had its parliamentary election in which the new political landscape of one of Europe’s most stable countries has been laid bare. Mark Rutte’s VVD were returned as the largest party in a parliament that is more fractious than at any time in recent memory. The Dutch Labour Party have collapsed, becoming a rump party so pitiful that it makes Corbyn’s Labour look positively robust. Wilders’ rise to the pole position in the Tweede Kamer was checked by his seeming inability to realise that screaming shrilly and being generally obnoxious is not the best way to capture the confidence of a generally conservative, change-averse electorate that is almost Canadian in its obsession with consensus. He lacks the finesse of a Jimmie Åkesson.
France aside, French politics are too tedious and painful to discuss at the moment, Germany’s campaign season has started in earnest. Tiny Saarland, among Germany’s smallest Bundesländer with fewer than 800,000 voters had its regional election on the 26th of March. Saarland is interesting only because it is split fairly evenly. It was formerly a stronghold of the Social Democrats – not terribly surprising considering that it has traditionally relied on coal mining and heavy industry. In the past 20 years the Christian Democrats have become the leading party, in part helped by a split on the left.
In the 1990s there was a battle between the reformist, Blairite faction led by Gerhard Schröder and the traditional leftist faction led by Oskar Lafontaine. After Schröder’s unequivocal triumph and ultimate political demise, Lafontaine split from the Social Democrats taking many of his supporters with him, forming the Labour and Social Justice Party. In 2007 Lafontaine’s party merged with the Party for “Social Democracy”, the successor of the Socialist Unity Party which had ruled East Germany with an iron fist. Oskar Lafontaine, like Erich Honecker, is from Saarland. This new party, “die Linke”, have been a thorn in the SPD’s side since their reduction to Angela Merkel’s handbag-holder status in 2005. The Social Democrats had categorically ruled out working with them due to their ideological rigidity and incapability to accept that the golden era of social democracy had long passed. The “Grand Coalitions” that have comprised two out of the most recent three governments might well have been loveless, but they were stable.
The SPD dragged the monstrous Martin Schulz back from Brussels in an effort to revive their fortunes. The SPD’s fortunes have sunk so low that the only “credible” figure they had was a slightly-tainted Eurocrat with all the charm of Nikita Khrushchev’s warmed-up corpse. Schulz lacks the ideological rigidity of Lafontaine, but his views are closer to Lafontaine’s than they are to Schröder’s. Schulz is the first SPD leader to openly support a coalition government with die Linke or die Linke and the Greens. Dispirited SPD supporters have flocked back to the party resulting in their being competitive for the first time in a decade. Merkel’s march to a fourth term as Chancellor is no longer seen as a given. Saarland was supposed to be Schulz’s first scalp. The Bundesland that played so prominent a role in German socialism was supposed to be the birthplace of its glorious rise from the ashes of obscurity — the launching pad of Germany’s first truly leftist government since the 1970s. Instead, the Christian Democrats enjoyed a swing of 5.5pc which left them only two seats short of an overall majority in the regional parliament. Most humiliatingly, the Greens failed to return a single seat. Die Linke saw their share of the vote decline by 3.3pc, the SPD by 1pc.
What Schulz and the SPD have failed to grasp is that there are many, many Germans who fear a leftist government. Many voters who had flirted with voting for the AfD or sit out the election out of disgust for Merkel and her “refugee” calamity have been frightened into returning to the fold. I admit that I am among them. As disgusted as I am with her, I would rather take my chances with a weakened, chastened Merkel than risk a leftist government led by the Anglophobe Schulz.