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If you are among the frustrated, consider Germany

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Six polls in two weeks have given us a pretty clear picture of our national political stalemate.  The bottom line is that a quick election will reproduce a minority Conservative government.  Harper has a 6-7 point lead over the Liberals, while the NDP has ranged from 14% to 17%, averaging slightly below their e-day result in 2008. English Canada would deliver Harper a majority government. 

We can sleep tonight, however, with the reassurance that Quebecers won’t let that happen. These results have to be immensely frustrating for progressives, and I have heard and read a lot of that in the last couple of weeks.  Something must be wrong with our politics if it is Conservatives that stand to reap the political benefits of the last tumultuous year.

If you are among the frustrated, consider Germany where on the weekend the centre-right fulfilled Harper’s dream of establishing a conservative majority.  Consider German also because a closer look is full of comparative value for the stalemate that frustrates progressive change here.

Madam Merkel’s mainstream Christian Democrats held onto about 33% of the vote.  However the Social Democrats plunged more than 10 points to a post war low of just 23%.  Why the better result for the Centre Right?  The Guardian’s Europe editor, Ian Traynor, had this comment:

For the past four years Merkel has performed as Germany's better social democrat, further to the left than her social democratic predecessor, chancellor, Gerhard Schröder. Where he sought to free up the labour market and slash benefits, she shored up the pensions of Germany's greying population, subsidised firms to keep tens of thousands in short-time working to prevent the dole queues lengthening, and took on the Americans and other Europeans to launch an expensive rescue of the car industry.

But the real movement in German politics was to the right and left of the CD – SDP, which for the past four years have governed together in a coalition.

The right wing Free Democrats moved 5 points to 14.8% and became the successor to the SDP in a government coalition with Merkel.

And on the left, Die Linke, the Left Party, also surged to 12% (and 28.5% in the former East Germany).  The Left Party campaigned for an immediate withdrawal of German troops from Afghanistan, a “millionaires’ tax” on high incomes, nationalization of banks and strong financial regulation, and closure of Germany’s nuclear plants.  Also notable is that the German Greens scored 10.7%.  The consequences for the Social Democrats of the fractured left vote couldn’t be more obvious.

The German election confirmed a trend and quite similar results across the European continent in the June 2009 elections for the European Parliament. I was in Scandinavia at the time meeting with trade unionists, and they were frank in their shock and disbelief that there was no political benefit for them from the financial crisis.  Many told me that it was time for an assessment and reflection on the left.  Without doubt, German trade unionists and activists are saying the same this week.

Before plunging into an election that few are really up for, there is still time for some assessments and adjustments on the political left in this country.  Short of that, we can expect more frustration.

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