One point well made in here is that the CDU/CSU’s consuming crisis leaves a lot of space for fringe politics. With that in mind, what’s become of the off-diagonal parties?
The Right: the AfD and the Independent Voters
The furthest right party that’s considered acceptable can only have been disappointed with its showing. They picked up 150k votes from the Left party and lost in size to everyone else. The best it can say for itself is that it’s developed a strong regional base in the southern end of the former DDR, although on the flip side of that, it’s failed to deepen its base by making progress in the regional-level elections that would give it actual power. The net-gain data tells a story of competing for a very specific niche and failing on everything else. As such, they’ve moved from the acute phase to the chronic, installed firmly around 10% of the national vote and likely to get €50 million in state funding for their party foundation.
As well as the running fights between the relatively respectable bits of the party around Alice Weidel and the openly neo-nazi ones around Björn Hocke, their biggest problem is the emergence of new competition post-pandemic, with a range of new options offering a stronger extremist kick than fiscal conservatism and culture-war themes and a helping of bizarre wackiness besides. The following chart, from this Süddeutsche Zeitung feature, illustrates a major part of their problem:
This shows the leading parties that didn’t make the 5% cut in each constituency. There’s a remarkably clear geographic dividing line from Stettin to roughly Saarbrücken. To the north, two animal rights parties (there are quite a few) did best. To the south, the Independent Voters stand out, having morphed during the pandemic from being a specifically Bavarian phenomenon as the CSU’s Mini-Me into a national anti-vax protest group. The interesting thing here is that they compete directly with the AfD and seem capable of operating across much of Germany while the AfD has become progressively more Saxon, so they are a serious problem for the far-right.
The Left: The Left
The Left party came out of the election with absolutely nothing to shout about. Its vote was halved, pouring out in every conceivable direction, and it only avoided missing the 5% cut thanks to having a couple of weird outlier direct constituencies. The breakdown reveals the magnitude of the problem – as a party with multiple, quite distinct constituencies it’s failing with all of them.
The party exists as such because a chunk of core, working-class SPD people were angry enough about Hartz-IV to jump the historic divide between social democracy and communism. The SPD itself now wants to abolish Hartz-IV and 590,000 of them have churned back. The other half of the party, the continuation of the SED, mostly exists to act as an eastern lobby and not only did the SPD win big in the east, the AfD took 110,000 votes off them as well on a poor overall showing. Left-wing people outside Germany tend to think the party is cool, probably because it does well in Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg for historical reasons, but it did poorly in its diverse-urban seats too, losing 470,000 net votes to the Greens. Bafflingly, it also managed to lose 100,000 votes to the FDP and if you do sociology fieldwork on those people I promise to read your dissertation. That said, they’re back in government with the SPD in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and hung on to their one statehouse in Thüringen, although it looks like they’re out of the coalition in Berlin.
Fortunately they know just what to do about it – first, order everyone to shut up while the leadership discusses it behind closed doors, like in the good old days, and then look pathetic as Sahra Wagenknecht’s ego goes thundering across the country like some sort of gigantic experimental tank. Apparently concerns like climate change and racism are mere lifestyle issues, and the candidates who brought in the all-crucial direct wins in Leipzig and Berlin should listen to her after she led the list to losing horribly in Nordrhein-Westfalen. As she has been trying to do since 2009, she wants the party to concentrate on a) her and b) serving up something indistinguishable from AfD populism to its ex-DDR clientele. We’ve had the swing to hard-money total opposition to doing anything about the Eurocrisis, we’ve had the new “movement” dedicated to the national state, it’s high time the Left party’s fanbase in the English-speaking world hoisted this in.
If you want to do some populism these days you’ve got to do some COVID-19 denial or you’re not really competing, so it was no surprise but still a disappointment when she did an astonishingly cynical appearance on Anne Will’s talkshow in which she (falsely) claimed that vaccines only protect you and nobody else, suggested that the mRNA vaccines had unspecified dangerous side-effects, and argued that she would be willing to take a “dead” vaccine. This last is a falsehood in itself, as an mRNA vaccine by definition doesn’t contain live viruses or indeed dead ones, and refers to a conspiracy theory that there is in fact live SARS-CoV-2 in the vaccine. As a finisher she pointed out that her husband Oskar Lafontaine is in fact vaccinated, taking out some insurance against looking like someone from The Base by sticking to soft-denial. Ewww. Everyone’s furious but Wagenknecht is too big a media darling and too vicious a backstairs operator for the party to get rid of her, and the party is by far the biggest platform available to her, so they’re going to stick together.
Even if people have started writing horseshoe theory slash fiction with Wagenknecht and Alice Weidel.
Es gibt Fanfictions über Alice Weidel und Sahra Wagenknecht und der couple Name ist weidelknecht und ich wünschte ich hätte nicht danach gegoogelt
— Annikers die Stürmische ?? (@wersnocjwach) November 7, 2021
Our favourite among the odds-and-sods is by far the South Schleswig Voters, and their guy is settling into his new life as a federal legislator, announcing that he intends to stick up for minorities in general, including the Roma, and beyond that he is open to discussions with all parties that accept the liberal-democratic order. I imagine him practising that last one in front of the mirror, like Robert de Niro in Taxi Driver but spießig.
We’ve got to talk about the Base, though. The party that has officers such as “Visionary”, “Deputy Visionary”, and “Pillar Commissioner for Considerateness”, that denies the existence of COVID-19, and that claims the federal government is planning something worse than the Holocaust, whose leading members include that hatter practising law under a stiff name, how couldn’t you.
Well, it’s still going through the related “corona committee”, where they continue to promise that the vaccine is literally deadly. The explanation is now that the first two doses were placebos and the real one is coming as the booster. Of course – the classic dynamics from When Prophecy Fails are all there. Oh, and there are live octopuses in it. This is after the party spokesman gave the party leader an ultimatum to stop denying the Holocaust, he didn’t, and the spokesman just gave up.
Reaction to their great disappointment is fascinating – some thought it was down to the requirement to wear a mask, some to the fact the majority were vaccinated and therefore presumably compromised, and it didn’t help that prominent party leaders advised people to cast a blank vote because they thought this reduced the number needed to beat the 5% rule. In the end, though, as one of them said, “I fear you have to believe in the numbers.”. That said it seems phenomena like this are here to stay, even if there’s little sign of it making progress beyond 1.35% of the vote.
But then, is any of this really any weirder than super-journo media exec Matthias Döpfner claiming that the federal republic is a new authoritarian DDR because he’s not allowed to be as much of a bullying workplace tyrant as he’d like?