Monday, March 4, 2013

Forget UKIP, many economists in Germany now want an alternative to the euro freaks, too

The big news here in Britain for about five minutes last week was that at a by-election in Hampshire, the anti-EU party UKIP came second, beating the Conservatives into third place. I doubt whether that will have made many headlines abroad, and even here in Britain interest waned almost overnight given that strange things tend to happen at by-elections and given the accepted view that on many issues UKIP is more in tune with rank and file Tories than are the Cameronian Tories. Cameron himself has vowed that UKIP’s success will not mean he will take a ‘lurch to the Right’, but at the same time the Mail on Sunday reported today that a future Tory government will ditch the Human Rights Act. (Actually - and this is a bit of insider info, nudge, nudge, wink, wink – the word is that the Mail on Sunday hack did get a Tory briefing but got something horribly, horribly wrong and wrote the wrong story. The trouble is that now it has reported a possible new policy, one that will go down a storm in the shires and among suburban blue-rinsers and their wives, Cameron will look a right tit if he doesn’t follow through.)

UKIP – the United Kingdom Independence Party – is, as far as I am concerned not a political party at all but a single-issue pressure group. And that single issue is: Britain must withdraw from the European Union. A UKIP supporter reading this blog might well bleat ‘but we are a political party’, but as a rule political parties sport policies on a range of issues, and when UKIP does present ‘its policies’ on education, transport, defence, the economy and all the other areas politicians are forever sticking their noses into, they remain wholly unconvincing. Just the one issue preoccupies their every waking moment and that is getting Britain out of the EU. On all other issues they are pretty much contingent with the Tory party.

Cameron once wrote off UKIP as ‘loonies and closet racists’ (and he could well have a point), but the problem was that as many rank and file blue-rinsers have rather a soft spot for UKIP (and I can think of several Tory acquaintances in rural Cornwall who have told me they ‘would vote UKIP if they had any chance of taking the seat), he ran dangerously close to describing many Tory supporters as ‘loonies and closet racists’ (and, again to be honest, if he were to do so, could still well have a point.) But UKIP aren’t just a problem for the right-of-centre; there are plenty of voters who identify with Labour (and even the Lib Dems) who are equally disenchanted with the European Union and might well in extremis find themselves voting for UKIP, especially if it means that the more successful UKIP is in an election for any given seat, the less successful the Tory candidate will be, so the better the outlook will be for the Labour chap or chappesse. And that, of course, is the big Tory worry: UKIP might not garner enough votes at the 2015 general election to win any seats, but it could garner enough to do the Tories a hell of a lot of damage and lose it seats.

The one pertinent point about UKIP – yes, there is one, you know – is that, for all their fogeyism and cravats and golf club jokes and gin and tonics, they are more in touch with the mood of Britain than many like to admit. But a more interesting point is that their disillusionment with the EU is not just a parochial British affair. So a drum roll please for ‘Alternative für Deutschland’, a soon-to-be-established party in Germany whose would-be founders and supporters are terminally fucked off with the whole euro crisis, Merkel’s measures to solve it and cross-party support in the Bundestag for those measures. The at the moment the party is scheduled to be formally founded in April at a meeting in Berlin and has promised to try to contest seats in Germany’s general election this September, or, if it isn’t ready to, to take part in the EU elections in 2014. You can read about the new party here, here, here and here (if you read German) and I must admit that that is where I have garnered my scant knowledge of it so far. But a crucial point is that, as far as I can see, they should not be regarded as a version of UKIP in Lederhosen and a Stein of lager.

First of all, they are specifically concerned with the euro crisis and are not demanding Germany’s withdrawal from the EU. Second, unlike the profile of your average UKIP bod, who to my mind is more at home swapping ever-so-smutty jokes at the golf club bar than taking part in a truly academic discussion, a quite a few of the bods who plan to set up Alternative für Deutschland are university economists who, however much you might disagree with their analyses, can at least be accepted as knowing what they are talking about. And quite apart from not being ‘anti-EU’, many are wholehearted supporters of the EU. It’s just the way the euro crisis is being handled which bothers them and, more importantly, what they see as implications for German democracy, and, yes, I admit Germans can get rather intense and dramatic in some matters, but I do think they have a point. They point out that although the parties in the Bundestag might disagree on strategy and tactics, all are agreed that the euro must be protected. It is the solid consensus on the matter which troubles them, and those Germans, of which there is a growing number, who no longer agree, are simply unrepresented.

So perhaps their fears for the future of democracy in Germany is not quite as daft. This could get interesting, especially as the election last week in Italy ensured that parliamentary chaos there for the foreseeable future is certain.

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Bloody rain!

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I gave you a house in Southampton which looked like Adolf Hitler, now here's a church in Tampa Bay, Florida, which looks like a chicken (or at least to those who take an interest in these things).

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