Mar 192018
 

This morning, I came across an outrageously funny a moderately amusing video involving Shaggy’s early 2000s classic, some seriously revamped lyrics, and the man himself (btw, is this blond-hairing an act of cultural appropriation?). Cheap laughs, and the almost heart-warming idea that the FBI could end this, and everything would go back to normal. And yes, they manage to squeeze a lot of legalese into these lyrics.

Which then reminded me (yes, I’m old enough to remember both the outrage over Iraq and the euphoria of Blair coming to power in 1997) of a cartoon video featuring Tony Blair, Michael Howard, and other politicians of the day, happily dancing to the same song (“I was told that there were weapons hidden underneath the sand”). I tried to google it, but it is gone, a victim of the death of flash.

What is it about this song and wildly unpopular politicians? Is there something about this song that could be coaxed into a paper (“Pseudo-Rap as Liberalism. A Conceptual Sketch and Some Applications”)? Most certainly not, so let’s just post the latest video.

Mar 152018
 

Last Monday was Commonwealth Day, the date formerly known as Empire Day. I know this because I heard some claptrap on the BBC about 2.5 billion hearts beating as one. All eyes on London etc. Otherwise I would not have known.

Let me provide some context for this. At the moment, I live in downtown Toronto, a city that used to be one of the most staunchly British outposts in the former empire.

Canada only became fully independent from Britain in 1982, and the Queen remains the head of state to the present day. There is still a Governor General, who is supposed to represent her Maj on this side of the Atlantic. Because that’s not enough, there is even a Lieutenant Governor for Ontario, who performs what is known as viceroyal duties at the provincial level and has the St George’s Cross on her standard.

Her residence and other government buildings are just around the corner. I’m surrounded by real Victorian and mock Gothic architecture that tries very hard to look like Oxford or Cambridge against the backdrop of very North American high rises.

Yet there were no flags, no parades, no speeches, nothing on the news that would have suggested that this was some special day. Exactly no one on the streets looked particularly excited. By coincidence, I saw Justin Trudeau on the telly. He was not talking about the Commonwealth, but about Trump and tariff-free trading with the US.

For good measure, I asked my students – 65 budding Political scientists in their third year – whether they had noticed the coming and passing of Commonwealth Day. Two made vaguely affirmative noises.

In other news, I hear that Britain is still on its way out of the EU so that it may better trade with former colonies and new partners.

Just saying.

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Feb 052018
 

Update February 5, 2018

In March 2017, I posted a graph which shows how the AfD’s Facebook posts moved away from euroscepticism and Greece-bashing towards immigration and Islamophobia. But trends can change, and local regression smoothers have a habit of behaving strangely at the borders. So I downloaded another year’s worth of Facebook posts and reran the scripts:

Somewhat unsurprisingly, the new graph confirms for 2017 what we have seen for 2016: Muslims and immigrants are all the rage, whereas the Euro crisis is so 2014. I leave the old graph/post below as is for comparison.

Continue reading »

Dec 302017
 

Women don’t like the AfD (and why would they?)

The AfD is not particularly attractive for women. Survey data suggest that only one in three AfD voters is a woman. The new national executive has 14 memebers. Just two are of the female persuasion. This amounts to a cool 14%, even less than the female share of the AfD’s total membership (16%). The share of female AfD MPs in the new Bundestag is yet again lower at just over ten per cent, half of the already very low figures for the Liberals and the Christian Democrats.

This is hardly surprising. While some Radical Right parties in Western Europe parties at least aim to give the impression that they have modernised their stances on gender politics (cf the Netherlands, Norway), the AfD’s radicalisation over the last three years has brought them closer to traditional right-wing positions (see e.g. Jasmin Siri’s work on this), or perhaps these positions have become more visible.

Sex and loathing

Two “cheeky” 2017 campaign posters marked a new low on this front. One showed the behinds of a pair of scantily clad young women who allegedly “preferred Bikinis over Burqas“, the other used a picture of a massive baby bump to cajole Germans into “making new Germans instead of relying on immigration” (incidentally, the belly in question came from a stock photo of a Brazilian model).

This is the cutesy version of Höcke’s rambling about the “expansive African fertility type” that threatens to take over Germany. The obsession with the number of pure-blooded German babies and the means of their production, the Muslim as a sexual predator, the fear (and envy?) of the hyper-sexual Black that will take away our blonde daughters, wifes, and mistresses – the nice middle class veneer over the familiar right-wing extremist tropes is wearing pretty thin.

Female Facebook Friends

The AfD does not have an officially recognised women’s organisation. But a couple of weeks ago, Christiane Christen (the AfD deputy leader in Rhineland-Palatinate) and Janin Klatt-Eberle, a rank-and-file member from Saxony, have set up a Facebook community called “AfD-politics for women“. So far, some 600 people have liked it.

The page is not meant to co-ordinate or strengthen the positions of women within the AfD (where did that thought come from?). Its mission statement says that it will serve “to explain the AfD’s policies with respect to us women”, because the AfD is the only party that defends liberty and security for women. Hm.

The posts far, are what you would expect. They exploit the New Year’s Eve attacks on women in Cologne in 2015 and a recent jealousy killing where the perpetrator was a youth from Afghanistan and the victim an equally young German girl. They are similar to what can be found on the AfD’s official channels, but executed in a much more amateurish way. What really surprised me, however, even giving that level of amateurishness, was their logo, a – variation? – on the party’s official and already awkward design. This 👇

In my book, this beggars belief, so I preserve it for posterity here before they change it. I’m old enough to qualify as a dirty old man, so I just summarise the gist of the comments on the page:

  1. No money for a designer? Seriously?
  2. Pitch-perfect illustration of the party’s gender politics
  3. This must be a satirical page.

It’s not. It’s real.

Bonus track, because it is almost 2018: Link to one of my favourite older posts on a related subject.

Dec 032017
 

At today’s AfD conference, Jörg Meuthen has been reelected as one of the the two co-chairs of the party. Although there was no other candidate, he garnered only 72% “yes” votes. Meuthen was once promoted by Petry because of his convenient market liberal profile, but quickly became friendly with the more radical elements.

The election of the second co-chair was a more interesting affair. Apparently, the leadership had agreed that Georg Pazderski (leader of the Berlin chapter), an alleged moderate and pragmatist, should get the job. But at the conference, a surprise competitor emerged: Doris von Sayn-Wittgenstein, party chair in Schleswig-Holstein, who had only joined the party when it began to radicalise after Lucke’s departure as leader and vehemently opposes any rapprochement with the powers that be. In two ballots, the vote was split almost equally between the two, but neither reached the 50% quorum.

After a break, both withdrew their candidacy, and Alexander Gauland, eminence grise and leader of the the AfD’s parliamentary Party emerged as the new and only candidate. He received a mere 68% “yes” votes. Gauland is an interesting figure. Once a long-term CDU member and career Beamter in Hesse, he became a conservative newspaper editor and then one of the founding members of the AfD.

Late in life (he is in his mid-70s), he turned out to be a populist who regularly toys with Islamophobia and racism. He has repeatedly used his considerable influence within the party to defend Höcke and his cronies. He has also repeatedly ruled out that he could become party leader, citing his poor health and advanced age. Now his double role makes him arguably the most powerful (co-) leader the AfD has ever had. While Pazderski’s defeat and the poor results for Meuthen and Gauland highlight the fault lines within the AfD, Gauland’s rise to the two top offices is further evidence for the growing influence of the party’s ultra right.

Rechts photo

Nov 292017
 

After Frauke Petry, herself not exactly a centrist by conventional standards, has left the party, the rightmost factions in the AfD are becoming even more influential (or perhaps just more visible). The party will elect a new leadership this coming weekend, and Andre Poggenburg will stand as a candidate for deputy party leader. Poggenburg, who leads the Saxony-Anhalt chapter of the party, is a friend and political ally of Björn Höcke, the most prominent representative of the ultra-right within the AfD. In the past, under both Lucke and Petry, the national executive has made several unsuccessful attempts to kick Höcke out of the party over his various racist and anti-semitic statements.

Speaking of anti-semitism, documents have surfaced a couple of days ago that incriminate Peter Felsen, deputy head of the AfD’s parliamentary group in the Bundestag. Felser and his company were involved in the production of campaign videos for the “Republikaner” party back when they still mattered. Broadcasters refused to air these videos (German parties get an allocation of free airtime) because of their inciting content, and the courts confirmed that their content “minimised, denied, and justified” the Holocaust. Felsen does not deny the allegations but says that he regrets the whole thing.

Meanwhile in Saxony, Petry’s erstwhile home state, the regional leadership has stopped a similar bid to throw out Jens Maier, over similarly controversial remarks. Maier, who is a judge, has publicly spoken out against what he calls “the cult of guilt” (right-wing extremist parlance for publicly remembering the Holocaust) and the “creation of mixed races”. He is also on the record for claiming that Anders “Breivik became a mass murderer out of pure desparation”. Amongst us anoraks, Maier came national prominence when he granted the NPD an injunction against colleague Steffen Kailitz, who was banned for a while from repeating statements he had made when he gave testimony against the NPD in the Constitutional Court. Maier also likes to call himself “little Höcke”.

Nov 282017
 
Germany, what the actual fuck?

If you have any interest at all in European politics, you will have noticed by now that the pre-coalition talks in Germany have collapsed on November 19. Because this could mean (amongst other things) fresh elections, and because Germans do not normally do crisis these days, and because a paralysed Germany has all sorts of implications for Europe, everyone got very excited for a while. Right now, my money is on a reprise of the so-called Grand Coalition (centre-left/centre right), if and when the SPD realises that they should be able to get major concessions.

In the meanwhile, if you want to catch up with the situation or a simply in the mood for a bit of Angst watching, here is a list of links I liked

Germany, what the actual fuck?

  1. During the night, @JerremyCliffe provided a running commentary on twitter. A week may be a long time in politics, but this is still very useful. If you don’t follow the man yet, now is the time
  2. Statement by the Federal President on the morning after, indicating that he is not keen on a snap election (in German)
  3. Here is a long-form analysis by @TheDanHough, in which he very neatly dissects the mess the parties have landed us in
  4. These are my own two Euro cent on the state of play in Germany after the FDP’s walkout
  5. Politico on the growing dissent within the SPD
  6. Merkel, who previously said she would prefer new elections to running a minority government, now says that she is not in favour of fresh elections. Move on, nothing to see here
  7. Seeing the signs of the times, SPD leader Schulz no longer rules out “getting involved in formation of German government, in whatever capacity” and wants to give party base vote on final deal (but not on decision itself?)
  8. Here is a bit of scaremongering about the impact of the German impasse on the European Union
  9. Writing in the New York Times, @annakatrein is similarly pessimistic about Germany, Europe, and the world
  10. Ending on a somewhat lighter note
Nov 202017
 

What is the matter with the German coalition talks?

Shaped by the experience of the Weimar Republic, Germany’s post-war constitution is obsessed with stable government. Any incoming government needs an absolute majority in an investiture vote in parliament. The only way to topple a sitting government is to vote in a new Chancellor with an absolute majority. Parliament cannot vote for it’s own dissolution.

But Germany has a PR-based electoral system, which means coalition government. Add on top of this the (relative) decline of Germany’s two major parties, and you end up with the result of the September election. Merkel’s CDU, their Bavarian sister party CSU and the SPD would still command a majority in parliament, but following their respective losses, this coalition would not be so Grand anymore. The Socialists on the very left and the AfD at the very right of the political spectrum are effectively ostracised, at least on the federal level. And so, the mystical beast of German Politics , the so-called Jamaica coalition (named after the colours of the parties involved), became the only option for forming a new government): a complex and somewhat self-contradictory four-party coalition of the CDU, CSU, the Greens, and the FDP.

Then, after six weeks and several self-imposed deadlines, the FDP walked out of the pre-negotiations (they had not even moved on to proper coalition talks). While it is difficult to see how Jamaica could work around the manifold disagreements, the other parties claim that they were close to an agreement, and the whole walkout looked a bit staged.

What will happen next in Germany?

But was is next for Germany? In her brief statement, Merkel has said that she will inform the President about the situation first thing in the morning. While the constitution is very rigid in almost any other way, it does not set a deadline for electing a new Chancellor. Merkel and her old ministers, including the ones from the SPD, remain in power as caretakers until the President of the Republic sets the process in motion by presenting his “nominee” for the Chancellorship to Parliament.

In almost 70 years of constitutional practice, the president has always waited until a viable coalition was formed, then nominated the leader of this coalition. There is no precedent for the current situation, but there is also no rush. The caretaker government even has a viable majority in parliament. Cue awkward metaphor involving estranged middle-aged couple, all geared up for divorce, but still living together in the house and even having sex occasionally (though not enjoying it much).

Jamaica no more?

The President cannot simply dissolve parliament to trigger new elections, and parliament cannot bring the Merkel government down, unless (have you been paying attention?) they find a candidate who is elected with an absolute majority. Of course, Merkel could step down or stage a lost vote of confidence, but first, why would she, and second, even that route to new elections is slow and fraught with difficulties. I got carried away here. The no-confidence-route is closed at the moment.

Germany actually has a government

The most likely outcome for tomorrow is that Merkel and the President will agree on waiting a bit longer. But for what exactly? The SPD have ruled out a coalition with the CDU/CSU in the strongest terms, and their leadership have re-iterated this position on Sunday, just a few hours before the talks collapsed. Taking these words back would be very difficult, particularly against the backdrop of their electoral meltdown during the last Grand Coalitions. However, having another election that would presumably further strengthen the smaller parties in general and the AfD in particular is not a very attractive proposition.

An alternative course could lead to a CDU/CSU/Green minority government, possibly propped up by the SPD and/or the FDP on an issue-by-issue basis. However, getting there is difficult, because the framers of the constitution abhorred the idea of minority government.

Minority government or new elections?

What ever the eventual outcome, it will start with the President nominating, at some point in the coming days/weeks/months, Merkel. Barring a coup, she is the leader of the strongest party and has the best chance of forming a government. The quorum for an absolute majority in the current Bundestag is 355 votes. If all CDU, CSU, and Green MPs would support her (and that is a big If), she would need 42 votes from the other parties. In a secret ballot of MPs who would rather not go to the country again, that is not impossible. If she gets that number, she will be sworn in, even if she has no stable majority I can the years to come.

If she does not achieve an absolute majority, we will be in uncharted territory, but the rules that were draw up almost 70 years ago are clear. There will be a two-week period during which the race is open for additional candidates, but Merkel (or, should she bow out, some other figure from the CDU) would still be the strongest contender. The Bundestag can hold an unlimited number of ballots during that period. MPs from other parties would have ample time for a change of heart. Whoever gets 355 votes in these contests will be Chancellor. And you know who stands the best chance to perform this feat.

If, after two weeks, no one has won an absolute majority, there will be a final ballot. If no candidate wins an absolute majority, the President has to make a choice: he can either swear in the person winning the plurality, or he can dissolve parliament.

Either way, populists will speak of collusion and blame the elites (which, Schroedinger’s cat like, simultaneously cannot get a their act together and frustrate the will of the people). Either way, both Germany and the EU will have to live with a less-than-stable situation in Berlin. The FDP might have hung on a little longer in this meeting room, or not have entered it in the first place,because, you know, responsibility?

Update (November 20)

The president has released a statement, in which he reminds the parties of their duty to form a government. They have “a responsibility … that one cannot simply hand back to the voters”. This  does not look like snap elections. He also said that he will hold meetings with the presidents of the other top-tier institutions – parliament, Federal Council and Constitutional Court – to discuss the extraordinary situation.

Oct 132017
 
Putsch in the AfD?

The AfD’s short history is once more repeating itself, never exactly a tragedy, but ever more farcical. Back in 2015, Bernd Lucke,the then prominent face of the party, became increasingly worried about its radicalisation. He tried to strengthen his position as leader, set up a network of like-minded individuals within the party, was accused of data theft by Frauke Petry when he tried to access the central mailing list, finally left the AfD after he was deposed by Petry, and founded a new party of his own that was supposed to be nutter-free and became utterly irrelevant in the process. He took with him many of the more moderate party elites, including most of the AfD’s MEPs.

Slightly more than two years down the line, Frauke Petry, Lucke’s nemesis, party co-chair and the erstwhile face of the AfD’s radicalisation, leaves a party that has become too radical for her taste. She takes with her her seat in the Bundestag, a small number of MPs at the state and federal level, and her husband, one of the two remaining MEPs for the AfD. The AfD has accused her of data theft, because – you would have guessed it – she allegedly tried to get hold of the central mailing list. More to the point, Petry and friends have registered a new party even before the election on September 24, which is called (and I kid you not) The Blue Party. You might think of the FPÖ, or even Le Pen’s Marine blue revolution. But Petry’s vision for the thing is this: To become “a CSU (the ever so slightly populist Bavarian sister part of Merkel’s CDU) at the national level”. If you tone down the rhetoric a tiny bit, that is not so far removed from Lucke’s idea of a liberal-conservative party to the right of the CDU and could have worked for Lucke’s AfD ca 2014. Once more, life imitates political satire.

Sep 242017
 
  1. The CDU/CSU’s result is bad, but mostly so in comparison to 2013. The Christian Democrats are the biggest party, but they have scored their second-worst result since forever. But they had similar results in 2005 and 2009. By her ratings, Merkel has not been terribly popular for most of her tenure. 2013 was lucky timing and a last minute swing from potential FDP voters (I guess)
  2. 27 years after unification, the gap between East and West is real. Electoral support for parties varies across states and regions, but the East-West gap stands out. The AfD’s much stronger in the East, making them the second party in some places.
  3. There could be new elections. The SPD has ruled out yet another Grand Coalition. That leaves the Jamaica option, but it is not at all clear if such a coalition is viable. At the federal level, it involves four players (because of the CSU), and all the smaller parties have their mutually incompatible red lines. The stakes are particularly high for the FDP. Freshly back from the electorally dead, they cannot be seen as selling out (once more) for the sake of getting into government. There is no guarantee that a coalition can be formed. The constitution stipulates no time limit and there will be no rush, but politicians may eventually come to the conclusion that they have to go to the polls again.
  4. The CSU’s result in Bavaria is very bad, comparatively speaking. The CSU are down to 38 per cent in Bavaria – that’s considerably better than the mainstream CDU did on the rest of Germany, but a disaster by local standards. The CSU used to be the rightmost democratic party in Germany. The rise of the AfD is a clear and present danger for them, particularly in the face of the upcoming state election.
  5. The AfD could split again. Today may be their biggest triumph, but September 24 could be the party’s undoing. When Frauke Petry got rid of Lucke, that was widely seen as a coup of the radical populists against the market liberals. In reality, Petry won with the tacit support of the real hardliners. Since then, the perception of what constitutes a moderate within the AfD has shifted, and Petry’s support has waned. The AfD’s parliamentary party will have 80+MPs, many of them with rather strange biographies and some with openly extremist credentials. Only a minority will support Petry, who is at least nominally still one of the AfD’s two co-leaders. While Petry has pondered the prospect of a coalition with the Christian Democrats a few years down the line, the parliamentary party will be uncouth and noisy. Alexander Gauland, the presumptive leader, has already announced that he will “hunt down” the government. It is therefore conceivable that Petry an those loyal to her and her husband will break away, and that the AfD itself will move even closer towards old-style right-wing extremism, which would in the medium-term undermine their electoral appeal.