Lessons from Germany as UK election looms

As the election draws nearer, here’s one key thing UK party’s can learn from 2013’s federal German election.

Many people have moaned and complained about the coalition, with one major problem being that: “no one voted for a coalition”. But as May looms, along with it the likelyhood that we will get another hung parliament, there is a way to give more power to voters, as opposed to those in the high ranks of the parties.

To enter into the coalition in May, according to the BBC, the Liberal Democrats got approval from the executive committee as well as MPs, but did not need an agreement from members. In fairness there was a special conference in May 2010 after the election where delegates could vote. They did approve the agreement, but they did not have the power to rip up the coalition deal.

This is where Germany comes in. Following the 2013 German election, Angela Merkel’s centre right party (the Christian Democrats) and their sister party (the Christian Social Union) fell just short of an overall majority. After this they spent almost three months hammering out a ‘grand coalition’ deal with the second largest party (the SDP).

However, before an agreement could be set in stone, members of the SDP got to vote on whether or not their party should join in this coalition. An overwhelming majority of members voted in favour of the deal, with the full results available here.

Contrast this with the closed door Liberal Democrat conference.

The lesson here is that members of parties should be consulted before their party enters or rejects a coalition agreement. With coalitions going to be more likely this could be a sensible step. Of course, with party membership generally falling - ignoring the obvious exceptions - that could raise questions of legitimacy as such a vote would not include all who voted for a particular party.

Nonetheless, looking at Germany could be the right step forwards for democracy in our era of multi-party politics.


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