Friday 8 April 2011

Baden-Wurttemberg's Brave New World

Definitely NOT a Hippy!: The new Governor of Germany's third-largest state is the Green Party's Winfried Kretschmann. For the first time - anywhere - the Greens have come second in a significant electoral contest. In the recent Baden-Wurttemberg elections Kretschmann's party won more votes than the left-leaning Social Democrats (who now become the junior partner in a Green-Red coalition) and shattered the 50-year dominance of the conservative Christian Democrats. Russel Norman's suits and ties suddenly make a lot more sense.

BADEN-WURTTEMBERG is one of those curious names that only students of European history and geography – and frequent flyers – recognise. Located in the south-western corner of the Federal Republic of Germany, it is both geographically and by population (10.7 million) that country’s third largest state.

The only reason Baden-Wurttemberg is in the headlines (at least internationally) is because, for the first time in a state election, anywhere, a green party came in second. By giving Die Grunen more support than its social-democratic coalition partner, the eight million voters of Baden-Wurttemberg ensured that their next governor will not be the usual Christian Democrat, or even a member of the left-leaning Social Democrats. For the first time – ever – he’ll be a Green: Winfried Kretschmann.

Now, New Zealand is a very long way from Baden-Wurttemberg, and what happens in Germany doesn’t necessarily happen here. But the surprise victory of the Green-Social Democrat coalition in Baden-Wurttemberg – a German state which has returned nothing but conservative Christian Democratic governments since the 1950s – bears more than a little antipodean scrutiny.

What could make a deeply conservative state like Baden-Wurttemberg – the home of Mercedes and Porsche – abandon its traditional allegiances and embrace a party which the good burghers of Stuttgart, Heidelberg and Ulm, only a few years ago, would’ve dismissed as irresponsible hippies?

If I wanted to be glib and superficial, I’d offer you just one word: “Fukushima”. The Japanese catastrophe occurred slap-bang-in-the-middle of the election campaign – throwing into sharp focus the voters’ hitherto ill-defined fears about the Christian Democrat-led Federal Government’s renewed commitment to Germany’s nuclear energy programme.

But, of course, the real reasons go much deeper than that.

The defection of so many conservative voters to The Greens reflects a political malaise that has already “gone global”. All over the world the social, economic and environmental status-quo is being challenged. This political distemper is exhibited not only in the so-called “developed countries”, but also, and with increasing ferocity, in the countries of what used to be called the Third World – especially the Middle East.

It is born, I believe, from the indifference and self-imposed isolation of the economic elites. These “One Percenters” rely upon a compliant media to filter out and/or distort the electorate’s cries for change. Failing that, they use their colossal wealth to manufacture bogus “grass-roots” movements” (such as the US “Tea Party”) whose duped participants will embrace as their own an economic, social and environmental agenda designed to make their masters even richer and more powerful.

The more sophisticated sort of Green politicians responds to this grim political malaise by making themselves as appealing as possible not to the down-trodden and oppressed worker and/or beneficiary (who have their own political party) but to the status-anxious, politically-disconnected (but still compassionate) members of the educated middle class.

A wise old television journalist once told me that the typical Green voter in Wellington was the wife of the local university lecturer, doctor, architect, engineer or senior civil-servant. If this is true, then the most obvious method of doubling the Greens electoral support would be to choose candidates these women’s husbands could conceivably vote for as well.

That appears to be what happened in Baden-Wurttemberg and, judging by the New Zealand Greens’ preliminary Party List, it also appears to be the strategic objective of their coolly cerebral co-leader, Dr Russel Norman.

Just compare the fourteenth-ranked candidate, James Shaw, with sixteenth-ranked Steffan Browning.

James styles himself a Green entrepreneur and is an energetic promoter of the Green technological fix. Steffan is a delver and digger-out of environmentally hazardous corporate secrets. James sees science providing pure and politically unencumbered solutions to the planet’s problems. Steffan recognises that science, like every other human endeavour, has a paymaster, and that the purposes of our paymasters are not always planet-friendly.

In the best of all possible worlds, James and Steffan would both get into Parliament. But, in the brave new world of political possibilities ushered in by Baden-Wurttemberg, it’ll be candidates like James who “sophisticated Greens” feel more inclined to push up the List.

As Green Party members throughout New Zealand turn to the task of ranking the definitive Green Party List, my hope is that they’ll weigh with equal care the political contributions of those who envision the world as it might be, and those who grapple with the world as it is.

This essay was originally published in The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 8 April 2011.


Victor said...

An excellent piece, Chris.

The logic of your argument is, though, that we should all vote Green to ensure that both James and Steffan get elected.

Was that your intention?

Chris Trotter said...

Not a bad idea at that, Victor! Not a bad idea at all.

Victor said...

Let's assume, then, a Green surge and Labour avoiding an electoral crash but the two of them still failing to put together a majority.

Let's also assume the New Zealand First revival, which many of my fellow antediluvians assure me, with religious certainty, is going to happen.

That still leaves the question of whether the Greens and NZ First could work together in any conceivable universe, does it not?

Idiot/Savant said...

Its not just Baden-Wuerttemberg. A poll in Stern today shows the Greens overtaking the SPD. If an election was held today, Germany would have its first Green chancellor.

Victor said...

It would be interesting to learn how much of the German Green's success is due to voters switching to them from the doctrinaire Neo-Liberal FDP.

Chancellor Merkel's coalition partner saw its share of the Baden-Wuerttemberg vote slump to just 3%, in part because of its unpopular advocacy of tax cuts.

This might suggest that Germany's better-off citizens are more realistic and socially responsible than their NZ opposite numbers.

WAKE UP said...

So Germany gets it wrong again. Nothing new there.

Unknown said...

I would have thought if you were 18 and voting for the first time, going Green was the only socially responsible thing to do.

If you are older than 30 however, one might hope that you have read the Green's policies and realize that there is a good deal of utopian baggage that comes with their brand.

Personally, I like horse and carts, and I can accept that others like Morris dancing, but I wouldn't want to live in a country where they were the cultural norm.

Anonymous said...

How long till NZ becomes a republic and has a green president?

Anonymous said...

Brendan - your comment makes no sense. Or, it lacks original humour. Or it lacks insightful satire.

I'm thinking all three.

Anonymous said...

The reason for the German Greens’ success is the substantial reinvention they have undergone since the end of the SPD-Greens federal coalition in 2005.

During that time in federal government the German Greens supported market reform policies promoted by Schroeder’s SPD, and they suffered the electoral consequences. In the 2005 election the Greens gained just 5.4% of the vote.

The message was heard and the reinvention of the Greens was consummated at a 2007 conference at Nuremburg with a sharp move to the left. New policies on welfare proposed to reverse the same “Hartz IV reforms” they had supported while in government. Military involvement in Afghanistan was also rejected.

Environmentalism was again combined with strong social policies in this return the more familiar progressive form of Green politics ... and in 2009 the German Greens achieved 9.2% of the vote.

The New Zealand Greens must learn from this history, or they (and we) will be doomed to repeat it - no matter how “sophisticated” they may think they are now.

Idiot/Savant said...

It would be interesting to learn how much of the German Green's success is due to voters switching to them from the doctrinaire Neo-Liberal FDP.


The Greens got 61,000 voters from the FDP, almost as many as the CDU did. OTOH, most of the Greens new voters came from non-voters and Social Democrats.

Anonymous said...

The Greens in NZ are at a turning point, with the retirement of the big personalities who could get single issues onto the political agenda. Their list would seem to now have a very academic/managerial look. James Shaw has been profiled by Claire Browning on Pundit. He's always been ambitious and a Green party member, but looks more suited to the so-called 'Blue-greens' associated with the National Party.

Though the Green co-leaders sound impressive, as with Metiria's first speech of the year based on her father's life of hardship, they are covering too much ground to be effective. If their party vote gets down to Shaw they may have competent people for select committees etc, but not the experience of actual struggles that Sue Bradford brought.

Anonymous said...

Go the greens! viva ecosocialism!

Victor said...

Thanks for the link Idiot/Savant.

Another interesting trend is the move to the Greens from Die Linke.

I wonder if that's a move back by leftish Greens, who gave up on the party over its right-wing drift during the Schroeder/Fischer coalition years and after.

Anonymous said...

"James Shaw has been profiled by Claire Browning on Pundit. He's always been ambitious and a Green party member, but looks more suited to the so-called 'Blue-greens' associated with the National Party. "

Yeah, I wondered if anyone other than me thought that. I was very surprised to hear that the company he currently works for (so - at the same time as running as a Green candidate) consults BP and Shell. I get that some people wouldn't care. I do.

Not my kind of Green!

Anonymous said...

Die Linke got more or less the same proportion of the vote in some eastern provinces as the Greens did in the west. The difference is that the Social Democrats refuse to go into coalition with Die Linke so they are unable to govern.

Unfortunately neither the NZ or German Greens are eco-socialists so ultimately they will always end up betraying the working class.

Anonymous said...

James Shaw, not you kind of Green eh?
I guess you like the kind that helps keep the Greens down at around 6%.?
James is an amazing guy a great Green champion.
The kinda of person that will help the Greens to win government

Anonymous said...

Where the hell did you get that idea? I do not know anyone in the Greens who isn't an eco-socialist and they have been consistent supporters of the working class and beneficiaries unlike Labour. Labour are the ones who left Dunedin South with 60% of households with an income of less than $20,000 pa. NACT will have made that worse obviously.

Next time you want to make a comment try backing it up with some facts instead of talking total rubbish.

Peter said...

Actually,I find myself in agreement with Brendan,it is usually better to dream than to have...
Politicians seem always to start with high ideals,but in time find that the "system" is bigger than them and find that they have to conform.And indeed they do,in the end it comes down to Money and Power.At the end of the day they are after all only human, believe it or not.

Victor said...


I'm not a member or supporter of any 'Green' political party. However, I think that, as far as Green movements anywhere are concerned, a key concern is preserving what we already have rather than succumbing to the seductive but delusory dream of limitless growth, spurred by individual greed and the lust for power.

It could be argued that it is those, such as yourself and Brendan, who continue to believe in these destructive chimeras, who need to get a grip on reality.

As to the German Greens, they seem to share the realism and social ethic that is integral to all Germany's parliamentary parties, with the exception of the wide-eyed individualists of the FDP, who are now deservedly heading for eclipse.

The Soziale Marktwirtschaft (Social Market Economy)was the basis of West Germany's rapid recovery from the utter destruction of World War Two; of the staggering prosperity of its citizens during the three decades of the Wirtschaftswunder; of the bedding-down of a dignified and stable democracy in once highly infertile soil and of the not wholly completed but largely successful integration of the former DDR into the Federal Republic.

You are much mistaken if you think that any of these goals could have been achieved through the Hobbesian war of all against all, apparently recommended by yourself, Brendan and others who continue to imbibe at the rapidly-emptying well of neo-liberalism.

Nor is there anything unrealistic about the German Greens' trademark opposition to nuclear power. Living in a densely-populated country at the heart of a densely-populated continent does tend to concentrate the mind somewhat, when it comes to issues of safety, particularly if you have a history that teaches you that the worst can happen.

May I also add that, when working in the Federal Republic in the 1970s, I was troubled by the environmental damage that seemed to accompany the Wirtschaftswunder.

On recent trips back to Germany, however, I've been impressed by the progress made in environmental protection, whether or not the Greens were members of the state governments responsible. The economic skies haven't fallen in as a result of greater emphasis on the environment.


I don't think there are many German Morris Dancers. True, in Bavaria, there are many fans of 'Schuhplatter' dancing, which is even more egregious. But they tend to vote for the conservative CSU.

Matthew said...

Though I may be flogging a dead horse, the Green's victory in Baden-W├╝rttemburg was not the dawn of a Brave New World of Green political hegemony. It was primarily the result of two contingent political issues that came together in a unique political shit-storm:
1. Fukushima
2. The contentious construction of a new railway station in the middle of Stuttgart that most of the residents are opposed to. The Greens were the only party to oppose the project.

The lesson for us? Maybe if New Zealand one day decides to rebuild its infrastructure, the Greens can capitalise on the backlash.

Anonymous said...

Someone like James Shaw could lead a green government. Time for the eco socialist republic of Aotearoa!

jh said...

New Zealand isn't Germany. In New Zealand the Greens favour the foreshore and seabed, not as a commons but:

“The Greens support responsible access to the foreshore, which is compatible with Customary Ownership governed by tikanga Maori and the concept of public domain.

In addition the Greens don't do immigration. You stood by while NZ passed the fork in the road and places like Queenstown hit the over development button.
While Helen Clark welcomed members of the worlds most populous nation you self congratulated yourselves on your lack of racism.
The economists from the Savings Working Group now tell us that as a strategy to catch up with Australia immigration has failed, it hasn't increased incomes, in fact it has put up house prices and meant a need for greater infrastructure for the new arrivals (a subsidy for developers).

The sort of Kiwi who lived in the "unprepossessing fishing village" at Redcliffs has been "replaced by more luxurious residences, and property values have escalated".

These people lived a relatively sustainable life style yet to the Greens they would be white trash, as demonstrated by this unusual view by No. 4 on the list:

The State of The Pakeha Nation by Catherine Delahunty.

markus said...

After managing to track-down some detailed Baden-Wurttemburg 2011 Party-Vote stats (at the individual constituency level), I've indulged in what can only be described as an absolute frenzy of number-crunching (as is my wont). And the upshot of all this malarky is that I've managed to discern one or two clear-cut patterns that might not otherwise be apparent.

But first, for comparison, the 2006-2011 Party-Vote stats for the State (of Baden-Wurttemburg) as a whole:


CDU...........39.0........44.2......- 5.2
Green.........24.2........11.7.....+ 12.5
SPD............23.1........25.2.......- 2.1
FDP............5.3..........10.7.......- 5.4
Linke..........2.8...........3.1........- 0.3
Other..........5.6...........5.1.......+ 0.4

Left.............50.1........40.0.....+ 10.1
Right...........44.3........54.9......- 10.6

Turnout 2011: 66% (about 5 million votes)
Turnout 2006: 53% (about 4 million votes)

The Centre-Right CDU thus remains by far the most popular single party in the State (15 percentage points ahead of the Greens), but the Left bloc has enjoyed a roughly 10 percentage point swing from the Right with, of course, the Greens the key beneficiary.

While most articles have suggested this is the first Centre-Left government in Baden-Wurttemberg since 1952 (implying that the Left may have won there in earlier years), I actually suspect it's the first Centre-Left win in the entire democratic history of both Baden and Wurttemberg (which were only unified in the post-war period). I think 1952's only mentioned because that was the first post-war election in the newly-unified state. Certainly at the federal election-level, you'll find that both Baden and Wurttemberg consistently voted for the Right in the 1919-1933 period.

So, this impressive swing to the Greens shattered not just a 50, but perhaps almost a 100, maybe even 140-year domination by the Right in the region.

(Part One of a Two-Part comment. Stay tuned because Part Two may prove even more exciting ! -as if such a thing were humanly possible)

markus said...

Part Two - The Empire Strikes Back

Looking at the seat-by-seat 2011 Party-Vote in Baden Wurttemberg, it's clear that the Greens scored their greatest gains (increases of +15 to +19 percentage points) largely in those areas that were already (in 2006) relative strongholds for both the Greens and the Left Bloc as a whole.

There were four key Left-leaning urban areas where the Greens received these way-above-average swings: (1) Mannheim-Heidelberg in the extreme north-west, (2) the 4 seats of Greater Stuttgart (the State Capital) in the central-north, (3) the city of Freiburg and a cluster of constituencies surrounding Freiburg in the south-west, and (4) the city of Konstanz on Lake Konstanz in the far south.

In most constituencies in these 4 areas, the Left Bloc took more than 45% of the vote in 2006 and often more than 50% (compared to 40% in the State as a whole). And in many of these seats, the Greens had received 15%-24% of the Party-Vote in 2006 (compared to a state-wide Green vote of less than 12%).

As a result, of these huge 2011 swings, the Greens (despite being 15 percentage points behing the CDU at the state-level) are now the most popular party in these 4 urban areas. In Stuttgart Central, they took a whopping 43% of the Party-Vote, and 28-34% in the other 3 seats of the state capital. They won 37% of the Party-Vote in Heidelberg, 30% in one of the Mannheim seats and 24-26% in 3 other seats in this area. In Freiburg City, the Greens took 40% as well as 28-30% in a cluster of constituencies surrounding the city. And in the tourist mecca of Konstanz, they received 35% of the Party-Vote.

The Greens are now also equal-first with the CDU in the cities of Tubingen and Karlsruhe.

The greatest contrasts seem to be in the south of the state. While the southern cities of Freiburg and Konstanz moved heavily toward the Greens (and ended up with Left Bloc votes of 69% (Freiburg) and 58% (Konstanz)), many other southern seats recorded comparatively "small" swings to the Greens (though still in the order of a significant 7-10% !) and continued to be won by the Right Bloc. While most of these latter seats were rural or small-town, they also included one or two conservative-leaning cities.

One bizarre exception: the constituency of Biberach, where the party-vote hardly changed at all - the Greens receiving just a 1% swing (God knows what the voters there thought they were playing at).

None of which has anything even remotely to do with the main thrust of Chris's article, but, you know, I was just in the mood for number-crunching (partly inspired by Victor's interesting questions and Idiot/Savant's excellent link).

Victor said...

Markus! Du bist Der Mann!

And, what's more, your number crunching is highly relevant to the situation in NZ.

Unless I've misunderstood your analysis, the Greens have gained votes in substantial numbers from both Right and Left, albeit not in equal amounts.

This raises the question of whether there is such a thing in Germany as a 'Left bloc'. If there is, then the Left has done well on the basis of votes being redistributed within the bloc. The Greens could then be viewed as the Left's best electoral asset.

But I can just imagine an old mate of mine in 'Die Linke' arguing that the Greens are a bunch of bourgeois opportunists stealing left-wing votes.

Here in New Zealand, the Greens and the rest of the Left also have to decide whether or not they are part of the same family. It used to be axiomatic but, for good or ill, is so no longer.

A further question, of course, is whether the Greens' success in historic/scenic places like Konstanz, Freiburg, Heidelberg or Tubingen provides any indication of how they would fare in Berlin, Hamburg, Munich or Cologne.

markus said...

Vas ist das, Herr Victor ?

Das ist ein offizieller Busstop !

(1) Die Linke:

Yep, much like your old Deutschlander mate, I have a bit of a soft spot for dear old Die Linke. Good to see a Scandinavian-style Left Party emerge in Germany (though, of course, its eastern PDS faction has been around a long time). Quite a significant SPD-to-Die Linke swing at the last federal election. They're even starting to overcome their debilitating weakness in the west, particularly with the 3rd placing (and a significant 19%) in Lafontaine's state of Saarland in 2009. But, of course, any putative Green resurgence may just stop them in their tracks.

(2) Historic/Scenic Heidelberg, Freiburg, Konstanz and Tubingen:

Although we haven't yet been to the heart of the Black Forest, we did travel around the periphery of Baden-Wurttemberg in both 2005 and 2009 in 2 BIG self-drive road trips through Europe(Heidelberg/Neckar Valley/Bad Wimpfen/Heilbronn/Schwabisch Hall (the latter my favourite town) and Aalen in 2005; and along the southern (Swiss) shoreline of Bodensee/Lake Konstanz in 2009).

I've been impressed to see the strength of the Left Bloc vote in some of these places - the natural assumption is that relatively small provincial, historic cities/towns will lean decisively to the Right. Even my favourite little history-laden town of Schwabisch Hall in the Swabian wolds (population 37,000) was won by the Left this election (and even has an SPD Mayor).

Mind you, I've long known that Freiburg was strongly Left-leaning. In fact, at the 2009 federal election, it was the only seat won by the SPD in the entire southern half of Germany (everything else was CDU/CSU - including all of the Munich seats).

(3) Who swung to the Greens in Baden-Wurttemberg 2011 ?

If you were to focus solely on net vote movement (see table in my first comment), then it looks like most of the swing to the Greens came from the Right (CDU - 5, FDP - 5, compared to the Left: SPD - 2, Linke =). But that's highly deceptive because (a) a significant increase in turnout occurred in 2011 and (b) net vote movement often hides much greater underlying voter volatility.

Which is why Idiot/Savant's link was really valuable.

So, I've indulged in some further number-crunching (using both official election returns and the data in Idiot/Savant's link) and the upshot of all this somewhat bizarre behaviour will be set-out in my next comment (below).

markus said...

Right, so according to my calculations:

(i) About 44% of the swing to the Greens came from former nicht-wahlers (non-voters/new-voters)

(ii) about 28% from the other Left-Bloc parties (23% from SPD / 5% from Die Linke)

and (iii) about 24% of the Greens' gain came from the Right (14% CDU / 10% FDP).

(and the small remainder from minor parties).

Hence, former Non-Voters and New-Voters played quite a decisive role in this Election. They voted disproportionately for the Greens (36% compared to 21% of all other voters) and they gave a disproportionately small share to the Right (32% compared to 47% from all other voters).

Had 2006 Non-Voters also stayed away in 2011, there would still have been a quite decisive (though obviously smaller) swing to both the Greens and the Left-Bloc, but:

(a) the Election would have ended with an absolute knife-edge result - the Left and Right blocs both on about 47-48 % each (the winning bloc would have had the barest of majorities: just 1 or 2 seats), and

(b) the SPD would have just pipped the Greens by 1 percentage point (rather than the other way round).

So the almost 1 million former Non-Voters proved decisive in securing both a CLEAR-CUT (and historic) victory for the Left in this traditionally conservative state and, of course, a ground-breaking result for the Greens.

Victor said...

Hi Markus

Catching-up belatedly with your analytical Wunderschau (there must be such a word).

There were a couple of interesting articles in Der Spiegel this week concerning the German Greens.

One of these points to dissension within the party nationally following the Baden-Wuerttemberg vote.

In a nutshell, some (including Winfried Kretschmann, the new state premier) seem to favour aiming more at middle class, swing voters and aren't wholly averse to a national coalition with the CDU/CSU.

Others see themselves as firmly on the Left and poised to lead it, through national and state-wide deals with the SPD.

The other article is about the Stuttgart railway station mentioned in Matthew's post.

The Greens campaigned against the station but the SPD is wholly in favour of it, apparently (amongst other things) on the grounds that Stuttgart will be an important point on the high speed rail network linking France and the Rhineland to the Danube region, including Vienna, Budapest and Bratislava.

So, in a sense, it's a battle between Green conservationists and Social Democratic 'environmentalists', keen to support public transport options. Ah! to have such choices in New Zealand!

I should add that my leftie mate referred to earlier keeps a good wine cellar, smokes Brazilian rather than Cuban cigars and is married to a Baroness. So I would hesitate to describe him as authentically Proletarian.

markus said...

Thanks for that, Victor.

Yeah, I read somewhere on the net that the Baden-Wurttemberg Greens (or at least some of their key leaders) are among the most conservative Greens in Germany.

Next State Election to watch out for is the traditionally left-leaning (and strongly Green) northern City-State of Bremen (home of my favourite Bundesliga team - Werder Bremen). Late May Election there.

James Shaw said...

Chris, I appreciate the apparent endorsement alongside such a tireless eco-champ as Steffan. I hope you don't mind, but some of the less charitable comments inspired a post of my own... Just for the record, why standing for the Greens is the logical extension of my work with major corporations: