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August 22, 2018

Is the AfD a party of the left or the right?

The EU is only slowly coming out of its summer lull, but we noted an interesting article in FAZ, which discusses efforts by some senior AfD folk to reposition the party on the left in social policies in direct competition with the SPD and the Left Party. We recall the converse debate in the Left Party, where Oskar Lafontaine and Sahra Wagenknecht tried to open the party to the right - with their demands for withdrawal from the euro and a stop to immigration.

There are still some economic libertarians within the AfD, stemming from the time when the party was essentially focused on euro exit, but many of them have left and the remaining are now outnumbered by the far right. 

The political issue on which the debate in the AfD focuses is the future of the German pension system. Two prominent AfD politicians, Bjorn Hocke, head of the party in Thuringia, an AfD hotspot, and Jurgen Pohl, an AfD MP from the same state, have come out in favour of a state pension as part of a wider package of citizens' rights. This would constitute the biggest social reform in post-war Germany, which has a pension system system where everybody pays into a fund and where the pension is financially related to the amount and the number of years of payments. 

The estimated costs of a state pension would be €125bn per year. Hocke is on the far right of the party, and it is there where there is greatest support for the social-welfare policies of the left. The right wing of the party also wants to raise unemployment allowance. The one remaining - and, we presume, insurmountable - difference with the SPD is the latter's proximity to the trade unions.

Somewhat related to this subject, we noted a comment by Steve Fuller, an academic who has studied the ideological shifts and turns of the social democratic parties in Europe. His thesis is that the social democrats have become virtually indistinguishable from the neoliberals, the movement that originated in post-war Germany to put liberalism on a stronger institutional footing. He quotes Robert Michels, the sociologist, that social democracy was the paradigm of an ideology that will do anything to secure power by adapting principles to circumstances. Examples were the SPD's embrace of Bismarck's social reforms, and after the second world war the party's official break with Marxism. Fuller argues that the main remaining difference between social democrats and neoliberals is how they react to policy failure. Social democrats blame the rich, while neoliberals blame the poor.

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August 22, 2018

What a second Brexit referendum would be about

The second referendum is the kind of idea that sounds plausible at first from a Remainer perspective - but it collapses once you think it through to the end. In the past we focused on the difficulty of finding an appropriate question, and the lack of support by the Labour leadership. Perhaps the biggest obstacle of all is the kind of debate to expect if it ever came to a second referendum. It would not be about Europe at all. Barry Gardiner MP, a Labour Remainer, yesterday gave us a hint of the debate to expect when he said: 

"a second referendum undermines the whole principle of democracy in this country."

This is telling us that a second referendum debate would be about democracy itself. It could trigger a wider, possibly violent, insurrection. Not only would a campaign in favour of overturning a democratic vote be difficult to win. It is also the last thing the EU needs right now - being portrayed as undemocratic. 

We think it is one of the biggest miscalculations by hardline Remainers is expecting the EU to enter into a conspiracy with them. While there are many Leavers who have changed their views on Brexit, we suspect they are outnumbered by Remainers like Gardiner who are not willing to frustrate a referendum result, or who are simply not willing to countenance the social and political instability this process would bring. 

In his latest analysis of the state of play in the Brexit process, Andrew Duff noted that the UK debate is largely disconnected from the reality on the ground. We think the following passage is worth quoting in full because it highlights the biggest source of misjudgment in the UK:

"Once an Article 50 deal is tabled for scrutiny, however, it should become clear that this is the EU’s final offer. Having laboured hard to deliver two versions of a new settlement for Britain, the rest of the EU is in no mood and in no fit state to devise a third....

If no deal is reached in the Article 50 talks, or if the deal reached is subsequently rejected by the British Parliament, the EU’s contingency plans will be put into operation and it will extricate itself from the UK as best it can on 29 March. Soon afterwards, in any event, normal business will be suspended in Brussels until the new Parliament and Commission is elected and Mr Tusk’s successor takes his place in December."

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