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June 19, 2017

SPD to focus on inequality

The SPD is about to present the fiscal part of its election manifesto this week. As FAZ reports, it suggests that the SPD is going to focus heavily on inequality, which we think is probably a smart strategy in principle, except that we do not believe that the detailed programme itself will be radically different from what the CDU/CSU will offer. The paper quotes Martin Schulz as lambasting the low taxes paid by Germany’s richest families. To help middle class income earners he also promises to raise the threshold from which the highest tax rate will be effective. Another focus of the SPD’s campaign will be tax avoidance by large EU corporations, who are exploiting discrepancies among national tax regimes. Schulz is also quoted as saying that the SPD will campaign on three themes: inequality, innovation, and Europe. We thought it illuminating how he explained away two of the three consecutive defeats in state elections. In the Saarland, he said, the SPD lost because it failed to exclude an alliance with the Left Party; and in North-Rhine Westphalia the SPD lost because of its disastrous education policies.

A quiet campaign focusing on inequality and tax avoidance is, in principle, a good idea, as inequality has risen in Germany as well as elsewhere. People respond to these issues. But the problem is that the SPD has governed for 16 out of the last 20 years, during which period much of this inequality has arisen. And we fail to see the logic of a domestic campaign in favour of tax harmonisation at EU level since Schulz will not be able to force the issue unilaterally. We have yet to see a big issue on which the SPD offers a radical alternative. And since Schulz is not ruling out participation in a Grand Coalition, one questions the credibility of these pledges.

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June 19, 2017

On radical uncertainty

We noted a few articles on a similar theme - on fundamental shifts affecting the way politics works. We noted a well-researched article in Buzzfeed on how left-wing bloggers have more than compensated for the impact of the Tory-supporting anti-European press. The article cites the example of a few blogs - Another Angry Voice, The Canary, and Evolve Politics. Most of those did not exist two years ago, but together they vastly outperformed the traditional media during the last elections. While the Sun and the Daily Mail may still sell 3m copies a day altogether, their decade-long dominance of British public opinion is finally coming to an end.

In his FT column, Wolfgang Munchau notes that we have entered an age of radical uncertainty in politics when traditional modes of analysis and thinking no longer work. He notes that David Cameron, Theresa May, and Matteo Renzi, were all fooled by the polls when they called referendums and elections. The polls were not wrong, but public opinion shifted by voting day. Even the modern tools of political analysis, like social network analysis, have not produced persistently reliable results - they are better at explaining what went wrong and providing a sense of how public opinion is evolving in real time. This age of radical uncertainty requires politicians of a different kind - those with a deep understanding of their electorates, and with the flexibility to move quickly.

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