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Maybe It's Time to Look to Germany

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The chances are that by the time you read this, the results from the German general election will be in, and barring something completely unforeseen, Angela Merkel will have claimed the crown once again. But this article is not about the German elections, important as they are, but about two key characteristics of the German political system and what we can learn from them.

German politics practices consensus and coalition, two things that I think the UK should take a long look at adopting itself. Let's look at what they mean, and what they could mean for us.

Firstly, consensus: because Germany has long since embraced proportional representation as its electoral system, German governments rely more than most governments on working with a variety of small parties, such as the Greens or Die Linke (The Left). This means there is very little room for party posturing. Unless one specific party, such as Mrs Merkels CDU, has a very strong hold over a coalition, the chances of it forcing through policies that are strongly disliked are extremely small.

From a UK perspective, this would mean that under a consensus system - which I must point out did exist until it was blown apart by Mrs Thatcher - divisive policies such as the Bedroom Tax, or immigration policies that are a blatant attempt to appeal to the fringe right, would never even be considered, much less become serious government policy. Under a consensus system we would be a much less polarised nation.

Secondly, coalition: as mentioned earlier, proportional representation, and the coalition nature of German politics that results from it, creates room for smaller parties to flourish. For example, The Left, which I mentioned above, is a small party made up of a variety of left wing political groups with some past links to Communism. In the UK a party like this would have a hard time getting council seats. In Germany, they hold 76 parliamentary seats.

Now the advantage of smaller parties having a genuine chance of getting elected is that they then have to think about more than appealing to their own core supporters. If you actually have a chance of being elected you can't just be seen as the crazy guys yelling from the side-lines. You actually have to think about how you appear to the electorate in general and what's in your manifesto for the population at large. Imagine how much soul searching UKIP would have to do if they thought there was a chance they might actually gain seats in parliament.

Of course under a coalition system, it can be harder to get things down, as you are always at the mercy of your partners. But it certainly hasn't done Mrs Merkel any harm, given that she is on track to beat Mrs Thatcher as the longest serving female head of government in EU history. And unlike with Mrs Thatcher, there doesn't seem to be any desire in Germany to be rid of Mrs Merkel.

The British system of parliamentary democracy is respected the world over. But in this modern age, where people won't just accept the concept of a two party dynamic, where people's political opinions don't just fit into left or right boxes, maybe the time has come to take some lessons from our friends in Germany.

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