• Germany edition
 
Has Angie lost that conservative feeling?
Photo: DPA

Has Angie lost that conservative feeling?

Published: 17 Sep 2010 11:30 GMT+02:00
Updated: 17 Sep 2010 11:30 GMT+02:00

This week, Angela Merkel spent considerable effort addressing concerns that her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) was ignoring its conservative base at its own peril.

But the founding of a new right-wing party in Germany would likely help more than hurt the CDU. Firstly, there is a good chance that such a political outfit would quickly destroy itself, torn apart by its few decent supporters and whole droves of fundamentalist crazies with religious or reactionary agendas.

Secondly, it would be a blessing in disguise for the CDU, because it would finally have a recognizable opponent to its right. Nothing helps to define a political agenda, and inspire confidence, more thoroughly than a tangible opponent.

This is because the problem of the CDU is rooted in its own intangibility. Every year, a diffuse uneasiness breaks out. The causes are always different, but it always ends with the same complaint: the CDU – and especially its leader Merkel – are neglecting the party’s conservative core.

Merkel then has a talk with the Catholics, the World War II expellees or whichever group happen to be causing the fuss this time, and the party's general secretary then organizes a big family meeting. But none of it helps. The uneasiness just stays dormant until the next eruption. It's even becoming apparent in opinion polls: the current lows around 30 percent mean that not only are casual supporters embarrassed to be associated with Germany's largest governing party, but core conservatives are also turning away from it.

This quiet exodus is much more dangerous than any new right-wing party would be. If you ask a leading CDU politician what they are doing about this, you usually get a passive-aggressive question in return: what do you actually mean by "conservative" anyway? For or against nuclear power? For or against a mega-railway station in Stuttgart? For women in the kitchen, or for saving the family by trying to make sure men and women have time to work and have children?

It really is difficult to find a clear definition, but it would be wrong to therefore conclude that the "conservative" doesn't exist, or doesn't exist anymore. We used to be able to describe a clear set of conservative opinions, attitudes and behaviour – now it is just a diffuse feeling. But it is a mentality that is very widespread – at least as a sort of prosaic conservatism; the kind that sees railway ticket machines not as progress, but as an imposition.

Now the central task of our politicians is to find new ways to counter this persistence. It might be some comfort for Angela Merkel that no-one was more loathed by true conservatives that the provincial modernizer Helmut Kohl. And it's true that a few of these conservatism rows are started by people who have their own selfish careerist interests at heart. But that does not diminish the significance of these debates. The art of politics also means being able to keep your own traditionalists on side.

And keeping them on side means taking them seriously. But that doesn’t mean creating special programmes for dwindling traditional lifestyles like paying stay-at-home mothers not to send their children to day care. It does not mean lip service in party platforms, and it does not mean cultivating high-profile conservative personalities. In fact, taking the CDU’s right-wingers seriously is less about concrete measures than a vague feeling.

For example, nothing offends the conservative sensibilities more than watching the current centre-right government go about its business so ineptly. On the other hand, nothing could be more satisfying than the impression of assertive leadership.

That is why someone like Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg currently has a very good chance of abolishing something as close to the conservative's heart as Germany’s military conscription. And, as paradoxical as it might sound, Angela Merkel never shocked - and impressed – the conservatives more than when she threw the far-right parliamentarian Martin Hohmann out of the party in 2003.

The conservatives will never be happy: after all, they live off complaining about how terrible the world is. But they are amenable to gestures, to understanding and to strong leadership. The CDU and its leader needn't necessarily pursue conservative policies, but they do need to pursue their policies conservatively.

This commentary was published with the kind permission of Berlin newspaper Der Tagesspiegel, where it originally appeared in German. Translation by The Local.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

21:41 September 20, 2010 by Michael Woodbridge
It is remarkable how similar the political situation is between our two nations, Great Britain and Germany. Both have a Conservative, Liberal coalition and both suffer from a lack of political courage and new ideas on the part of their respective "conservative" parties. This is to the extent that the leaders of the so called conservatives can no longer really claim to be conservative and they know it. In fact Mr. Cameron and Frau Merkel seem to be most comfortable in coalition with the liberals because they are both liberal at heart and can use their need to keep their liberal colleagues happy as an excuse to ignore their core right-wing supporters. Only a radical change of thinking and circumstances will restore a healthy debate to politics which for too long has been mired in a creeping "politically correct straight-jacket.
21:42 September 20, 2010 by Logic Guy
Well, I'm Chrisitian with REAL CONSERVATIVE values. For many years now, society has confused political conservatism with real conservatism. The latter is actually something humanity has never, ever embraced. And as a result, it has struggled with the same, basic problems since the very beginning.

The word conservative means to preserve.

Humans have a long history of destroying each other and everything else in sight. Therefore, logic would suggest that if humans are to exist indefinately, then it's absolutely imperative that they fully commit to real conservatism.
06:59 September 23, 2010 by JohnPaul44
All the destruction of World War II could not destroy the spirit of the German people. Only the Welfare State can do that!
Today's headlines
Germany plan air lifts to help fight Ebola
A Liberian man holds his daughter as they wait for treatment for suspected Ebola symptoms in Monrovia. Photo: DPA

Germany plan air lifts to help fight Ebola

Germany and France will send military transport planes to West Africa to help efforts to contain the Ebola epidemic, Chancellor Angela Merkel and military officials said on Friday. READ  

Germany beefs up asylum rules for Balkans

Germany beefs up asylum rules for Balkans

Germany made it harder Friday for people from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Serbia to apply for asylum after lawmakers classified the three Balkan countries as safe, with respect for basic rights. READ  

German Muslims rally against extremism
Muslims pray in Kreuzberg, Berlin, on Friday outside a mosque which was damaged in an arson attack. Photo: DPA

German Muslims rally against extremism

Muslims across Germany held a day of prayers and rallies on Friday to condemn both Islamic extremism and a backlash against their faith that has seen arson attacks on mosques. READ  

German military flight to Iraq starts with a hiccup
The trainers on the air strip in Hohn, Schleswig-Holstein. Photo: Bundeswehr.

German military flight to Iraq starts with a hiccup

Military trainers flew to northern Iraq from Germany on Friday, ahead of a huge delivery of weapons from the German military, but things didn’t initially go as planned. READ  

Munich gets four Euro 2020 matches
Photo: DPA

Munich gets four Euro 2020 matches

UPDATE: Munich will play host to four Euro 2020 games, European football’s governing body Uefa announced in Geneva on Friday, but London was the real winner. READ  

Driver, 18, ploughs into school pupils
The scene by the bus stop outside the school in Diepholz. Photo: DPA

Driver, 18, ploughs into school pupils

An 18-year-old drove into a group of students outside a school in western Germany on Friday morning, injuring several. READ  

View from Germany
'In a globalized world we don't need more loners'
'No' campaign supporters celebrate in Edinburgh after the results were announced. Photo: DPA

'In a globalized world we don't need more loners'

UPDATE: The German government welcomed the result of the Scottish independence referendum on Friday, with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier calling it the "right decision". READ  

Oktoberfest 2014
Your guide to Munich Oktoberfest's beer
Photo: DPA

Your guide to Munich Oktoberfest's beer

The Local's Oktoberfest guide chugs some of the Bavarian tipple fueling this whole shindig. READ  

Berlin squat ripped apart by fire
Kreuzberg's Cuvrybrache. Photo: DPA

Berlin squat ripped apart by fire

UPDATE: One of Berlin’s biggest squats was torn apart by a fire on Thursday night following an argument. READ  

Sterilized woman gets pregnant, sues doctors
Photo: DPA

Sterilized woman gets pregnant, sues doctors

A woman who gave birth after becoming sterilized has tried and failed to sue the hospital which carried out the operation. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: DPA
Culture
Your guide to Munich Oktoberfest's tents
Photo: DPA
Hamburg
Drunk teachers ruin school trip to Hamburg
Marks & Spencer
Sponsored Article
Fashion Ladies of the Local: Win a New Autumn Look
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Oktoberfest 2014: The best and worst in dirndl fashion
Photo: Shutterstock
Gallery
Ten German words you'll never want to hear again
Photo: DPA
Education
German universities tumble in global rankings
Photo: Shutterstock
Business & Money
The three types of firms hiring foreigners
Photo: DPA
Berlin
Frisky couple shock Berlin commuters
Sponsored Article
Bilingual education from nursery to graduation at Phorms
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,348
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd