Germany: A bad model?

Daniel Hannan, writing in a Telegraph blog, argues that proportional representation would be a bad model for the UK to follow. Why?

for much of the post-war era, German (or West German) governments have tended to fall between elections, as a result of shifting parliamentary coalitions, rather than at elections.

There is one key problem with that argument: it is false. We could grant him the example of the FDP switching partners in 1982 and changing government from SPD-led to CDU-led before the end of a term. At least in recent decades, that is the only example we could grant him.

The far more relevant fact about that example is that an early election the following year confirmed what everyone knew from opinion polls: there was a majority for a center-right government. Yet more relevant is the fact that elections in Germany that have failed to produce a pretty clear mandate for the government that formed have been the exception rather than the rule. (Off the top of my head, 1966, 1998, and 2005 would be about the only cases that fail the electoral-responsiveness test. Can FPTP in Britain claim to be more electorally “efficient” than that? Maybe–just maybe–if we don’t include proportionality as part of our conception of efficiency, but we should include both accountability and representativeness.)

Hannan also claims that “German politicians, as a result of the party list system, must fawn on their party leaders even more abjectly than their British counterparts.” That, too, is debatable, but I’ll leave the counterargument to readers more versed in intra-party politics in the two countries.

Hannan’s preferred solution: “open primaries.”

2 thoughts on “Germany: A bad model?

  1. The nomination of candidates for elections to parliaments must be by secret ballot. (S. 17) Both for local nominations and provincial lists.

    The order of names of the candidates in the Land list must be laid down by secret ballot: Sec. 27(5). While some parties in some Lands may see pliant delegates who acclaim candidates to list positions as recommended by the executive, my impression is that this is not very common.

    At Land conventions no more than 20% of voting delegates can be ex-officio delegates (members of the executive committee, etc.) Sec. 9(2).

    I have not found recent research on-line in English on nominations. A paper based on research in 1998-99 found that “The usual practice is for list selections to be made only after constituency candidates have been selected” and this is still my own observation from a few recent examples. Seldom does a candidate achieve a high list position without having won a constituency nomination, which may well be contested. However, the list order will reflect the party’s quota for women. Women first elected on the list then often seem to get local nominations next time in winnable seats, migrating into the local seat category if the party does better in their second campaign.

    It is my impression that the interchange in the two major parties between list MPs and constituency MPs, as the party’s fortunes ebb and flow, seems to counteract any dependence by list MPs on the party leadership. Again I have failed to find recent research in English, but this was Massicotte’s conclusion in 2004.

    The appropriate executive committee may object to the decision of a members’ or delegates’ assembly. If such an objection is raised, the ballot shall be repeated. Its result shall be final. Sec. 21 (4). An interesting example from the recent election was the nomination of leftist Bärbel Bas for the SPD in Duisburg I, defeating incumbent Petra Weis. At the first meeting she won by five votes. A second meeting was called: she increased her margin to 17 votes and then won the seat.

  2. Mr Hannan is somewhat of a loose cannon and regarded somewhat with embarassment by many within his own party. He gave a very good (but factually flawed) piece of oratory when PM Gordon Brown visited the European Parliament where he sits. Since then he has become more and more visible, although his views on the NHS (close to those in the Republican party who seem to have used extremes of the scale such as Hannan to make a whole raft of questionably libelous claims about the British health system) are totally out of step with the Conservative Party. Not suprising this argument is utterly flawed.

    I think the German system is actually a rather good model to adopt – stable whilst combining that element of proportionality. The Bundestag holds 5 parties within the parliament with a sizeable number of MP’s each, who genuinely represent 5 different shades of ideology, rather than Britain where all 3 main blocs realise that without being as Centrist as possible they cannot win. It doesn’t present much choice at the ballot box other than in exceptional times such as the global recession.

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