A mere two weeks after being sacked as the AfD’s supreme leader, Bernd Lucke is back as presumably undisputed chair of the new “Alfa” (Allianz für Fortschritt und Aufbruch ~ Alliance for Progress and a New Beginning) party. Apparently, he already envisions a resounding success in the 2017 election and a possible role for Alfa/himself in a new centre right coalition.
Taking a more short-term view, what are Alfa’s assets? During the first week after the Essen conference, about 10 per cent of the AfD’s 22,000 members have left the party. Let’s assume that another 2,000 will follow, and that up to 90 per cent of those dissidents will eventually join Alfa (which is set to operate a complex system of black-balling and book-keeping to prevent infiltration by right-wingers, which, according to Lucke, was responsible for a lamentable transformation of “his” AfD). That would leave Alfa with a membership base of just under 4,000, which would be minuscule by any standard: less than a quarter of the rump-AfD, and less than ten per cent of what even the ailing FDP can still muster.
But you might argue that not all party members are created equal, and that Alfa will take on a disproportionate share of the (Western) AfD elites (and donors?) that used to support Lucke. Lucke himself is clearly the most important player: He still has access to the mainstream media, reputation, and connections. With him, four other of the seven MEPs have left the AfD. Trebesius and Kölmel (who were state party leaders in Baden-Württemberg and Schleswig-Holstein, respectively) have co-founded Alfa. Starbatty and Henkel, two market-liberal heavy-weights, are likely to join Alfa, too. The new party will clearly benefit from their standing, but also from the resources and privileges MEPs enjoy. In the city state of Bremen, the state party leader and two of four MPs have joined Alfa, and a third one might follow suit. In Hamburg, an MP who is also a former state party leader might join eventually, just like the dissidents in the AfD’s delegation in the state parliament of Thuringia. On the other hand, the AfD appears to remain united in two other Eastern strongholds, Brandenburg and Saxony.
Five reasonably prominent MEPs, seven members of state parliaments, and a potential 4,000 rank and file members are not too bad a start for a party that is less than a week old, but then again, Alfa is operating in a very crowded space: The FDP seems to be rebounding, and what remains of the AfD will put up a fight. Moreover, Lucke’s new message – very softly eurosceptic, protecting refugees from right-wing populists, and in favour of GM and biotechnology – is likely to confuse potential voters. The next set of Land elections (Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Württemberg, and Saxony-Anhalt) will be fun to watch. At least for the two western states, I expect that Alfa’s main result will be to further weaken the AfD.