The LibDems’ sister party in Germany – the free market, socially libertarian Free Democrats – are the real winners of their country’s general election. Their all-time high vote of 15% – secured on a platform of low tax, less regulation and more personal freedom – has propelled them back into power.
Although Merkel’s Christian Democrats slipped backwards slightly in the polls, the FDP’s strong showing allows her to remove the dead hand of the left-leaning Social Democrats (who were slaughtered) from the federal government. Liberal leader Guido Westerwelle and his colleagues stand on the brink of wielding real clout – and ministerial office – in the EU’s most powerful nation.
I recall Westerwelle leading a delegation of Free Democrats to a LibDem Shadow Cabinet meeting in Westminster in 2006. I can’t remember what the main business of the meeting was, but the FDP’s guest appearance was tagged onto the end – slightly unceremoniously. A real highlight, however, was a LibDem frontbencher asking Westerwelle whether he wanted the Free Democrats to remain in opposition to the grand coalition of Christian and Social Democrats, or whether he sought to return to government. The German liberal leader was pretty incredulous. With a friendly frown he said that he wanted to return to government as soon as possible, what was the point of being in permanent opposition? A heavily pregnant pause followed.
Three years on, Guido Westerwelle now has serious power, whilst a major breakthrough for the LibDems remains frustratingly elusive.
David Cameron has congratulated Angela Merkel on her “victory”, but I can’t yet find a similar message from Nick Clegg to his liberal counterpart.
This might be because everyone at LibDem HQ is still recovering from Bournemouth, but it could also reflect the party’s extreme allergic reaction to discussing anything that relates to hung Parliaments or coalitions. If so, that’s a shame because we could learn a lot from the FDP and how a consistent, vigorous liberal manifesto can garner growing popular support and secure high office for its proponents.
So, from Liberal Vision, very heartfelt congratulations to Guido Westerwelle and everyone in the German liberal party. I hope British liberals can gain confidence and inspiration from your remarkable achievement.