One correspondent asked what I made of the fall of the Freie Demokratische Partei (FDP), Germany’s Liberal party, which missed the 5% threshold and thus failed, for the first time post-war, to win any seats in the Federal Parliament.
I’m not a particular expert, but my purely amateur reading of it is that the seeds of the FDP’s destruction were in fact sown pre-reunification, due to the rise of the Greens. The Greens in fact challenged for a similar demographic (fairly well-educated, professional, slightly unconventional and thus against the two main parties, etc). With a new option for that demographic on the “Left”, it is no coincidence that the FDP’s move to the “Right” (essentially from social liberalism to classical liberalism) coincided with the Greens’ first entrance into the Federal Parliament.
This shift to the “Right” was maybe no bad thing politically, but it was disastrous strategically. Where the FDP once had the option of entering into coalitions with either big party, it was now devoid of that option, entering into coalitions even at State level only with the CDU (or in Bavaria, once, the CSU). Ultimately people began to ask what the FDP was really for – if they were only good for playing the small party in a coalition with the CDU, why not just vote CDU and be done with it?
No doubt some Liberal Democrats glanced across the North Sea with some concern. After all, was the FDP not the junior partner in coalition with the Conservatives? After all, has it not just lost two thirds of its vote, with by-elections pointing to a similar fate for the Liberal Democrats? I would not be so worried, in fact.
The Liberal Democrats clearly have problems. Once Kings of by-elections, they now fear them more than anyone. Once promoters of the unconventional opposition idea, they are now in government and forced to be conventional. Once the “catch-all” alternative, they are now bound to austerity.
Yet all is not lost. In fact, in the long run, the Liberal Democrats may even be rewarded for having gone into Coalition with the Conservatives. It proves that they are not just a faction of Labour; they are actually a real third party. That was the FDP’s problem – it could only go one way, whereas the LibDems can go both.
What is the way back for the FDP? Social-liberalism, probably. If they re-group, re-establish their relevance on certain key issues (Internet censorship is one obvious one in contemporary Germany; but taxes are the big issue currently and they should probably oppose the tax hikes which are now almost inevitable), and then re-align towards the broad centre, they will probably find a way back.