Thomas Kielinge: Germany would never agree to such an unfair system

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Germany has, with the exception of the 1957-1961 parliament, been continually ruled by coalitions since the inception of the Federal Republic in 1949.

For most of the time the consensus forged out of the necessity to compromise has served the country well. Coming from the utter devastation after 1945, Germans were guided by a national unity of conviction as to how to build a stable, new-found democracy. Let opposites be conjoined, political profiles diluted, adversaries reconciled.

The cracks appeared later, as the political spectrum began to diversify with smaller parties quickly gaining a foothold, advancing in some cases to the role of king-maker, as in that of the Greens in 1998, when they made the first Schröder coalition possible.

In recent years German coalition politics have become synonymous with indecision and the absence of leadership in domestic affairs. Even in her own party, Angela Merkel is not much loved. The bickering continues apace and often the political process descends into an unholy fudge majeur. Reforms are being stymied or postponed because the "coalitionistas" can't agree on more than the lowest common denominator for fear of making life impossible for the other guy. The public is increasingly cynical.

So what about Britain? I have the greatest sympathy for the Liberal Democrats' complaint about the first-past-the-post electoral system. Not to allow millions of votes to be represented in Parliament seems an outrageously undemocratic way of doing things.

I see British sportsmanship conflicted between two opposites: the Cup Final principle which underlies first-past-the-post (there can be only one winner, the loser must move on, a miss is as good as a mile) and the fairness principle.

Germans have followed the fairness argument to a fault. FPP would create revolution in my country: nobody would accept that the strength of the popular vote could be discounted in the actual composition of Parliament.

We mix fairness of the system with frustration over its outcome, pure democracy with the impurity of decision-making. But can one take the modus vivendi of Germany and simply apply it to Britain? I think not. Our two countries' mentalities have developed along totally different experiences.

In Britain FPP has by and large led to results broadly reflecting the popular mood at the time. Now that may change. The two parties involved, tossed together by the unlucky election result, are likely to be challenged to breaking point. What will the rank and file say if too much of their creed is neglected for the sake of the new pact? Take electoral reform. Can the Liberal Democrats really afford to compromise on an issue intrinsic to their raison d'être?

Welcome to the future. It's all yours.

The writer is London Correspondent of 'Die Welt'