• Germany's news in English
 

Has Angie lost that conservative feeling?

Published: 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 heightens travel warning for Turkey
A view of Istanbul. Photo: DPA.

Germany heightens travel warning for Turkey

The German government has issued more severe warnings about travelling to Turkey after a string of terror attacks in the south of the country, and as Ankara intensifies conflict against two militias in Syria and Iraq. READ  

Fireman turned arsonist jailed for 3 years
Fire services extinguish an unrelated fire in Hamburg in 2011. Photo: DPA

Fireman turned arsonist jailed for 3 years

After a series of arson attacks over several months, an ex-fireman has been sentenced to three years in jail without chance of bail. READ  

Mother slams IKEA for rejecting autistic son
Photo: DPA

Mother slams IKEA for rejecting autistic son

A mother from North Rhine-Westphalia has accused furniture chain IKEA of debasement, discrimination and marginalization – after employees in their Dortmund store refused to let her autistic son into the children's play area. READ  

Wallaby goes walkabout in Berlin outback
Photo: Gemeinde Nuthe-Urstromtal

Wallaby goes walkabout in Berlin outback

A woman in a village south of Berlin was shocked to find a rather unusual visitor in her garden on Tuesday. But by the time police got there he'd already bounced. READ  

Munich upholds ban on Jewish 'memory blocks'
A pedestrian walks by a group of Stolpersteine. Photo: DPA

Munich upholds ban on Jewish 'memory blocks'

The Munich City Council said on Wednesday that it had voted to continue banning the placement of blocks commemorating Jewish Holocaust victims in city streets - a ban that garnered surprising support from Jewish community leaders. READ  

13-year-old boy detained for trying to join Isis
Batlle in Syria. Photo: DPA

13-year-old boy detained for trying to join Isis

A young teen from Munich was detained near the Turkish border with Syria on Friday as he was trying to join the radical Islamist group Isis. READ  

The Local List
Six odd ways Germans talk about the weather
Photo: DPA

Six odd ways Germans talk about the weather

Is it absolutely roasting, or raining cats and dogs? Neither if you live in Germany. Here are six wonderfully weird expressions Germans use to talk about the weather - some more literal than others. READ  

Little by little, Germans move away from cash
Photo: DPA

Little by little, Germans move away from cash

Tourists and business travellers visiting Germany are often surprised when they reach to pay for their beer, metro tickets or even a large restaurant bill that their credit cards are not welcome. Habits, however, are slowly changing as younger consumers leapfrog from cash to convenient electronic forms of payment. READ  

Satire and reality blur in parody party's strife
Martin Sonneborn. Photo: DPA

Satire and reality blur in parody party's strife

After winning a seat in the European Parliament last year on a commitment to 'milking Brussels,' satirical party Die Partei broke new ground. Now a 'Nazi Putsch' threatens to split the party asunder. READ  

Pelicans with wanderlust escape German zoo
These feathered fugitives took flight from the zoo to get a birds-eye view of the world. Photo: DPA.

Pelicans with wanderlust escape German zoo

A pair of pelicans with a serious case of wanderlust flew the coop from Osnabrück Zoo last week, only to find their way back days later. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Culture
Berlin restaurant serves up Greek Crisis Menu
Rhineland
Doctor on trial after woman wakes in morgue
Society
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Sponsored Article
Outsourcing drives Apreel's Europe growth
Society
Police bust kinky Bavarian couple over painful love-making
Politics
Merkel brings Palestinian girl to tears
Hamburg
Amateur archaeologist finds Nazi gold hoard
National
Could Merkel learn a lesson in love from this doppelganger?
Travel
Why you should stay in Germany for the summer holidays
Sport
German press tell Schweinsteiger 'good riddance'
National
Hamburg gets a bouncing 100kg baby girl
Society
In North Germany, money sometimes DOES grow on trees
National
Hero mechanics stop Bavaria shooting spree
International
Denmark says that border controls are coming
National
Did hackers take control of German missile battery?
Politics
Munich gives gay pride green light
Business & Money
Berlin rent controls hit prices hard
National
Fighting to breastfeed in public without shame
Society
Ice cream for dogs 'gobbled up in one gulp'
Education
Are hotpants a feminist issue?
Rhineland
Lion cub reunited with mother
National
How the heatwave is cracking Germany's Autobahns
International
Why the French are more sympathetic to Greece than the Germans
Sponsored Article
Crans-Montana: International expat hub
Gallery
Police seize pensioner's WW2 heavy weapons haul
National
How to survive the Europe-wide heatwave
Sport
Is Schweini already out of the door at Bayern?
Politics
How German media shaped the Greece crisis
National
Car assembly robot crushes worker at Volkswagen
Rhineland
Weathermen red-faced over heatwave snow warning
Society
An eye for an eye? Mum protects child in playground with pepperspray
National
As it happened: Queen Elizabeth's final day in Germany
National
As it happened: Queen Elizabeth's second day in Germany
National
Queen Elizabeth II's first day in Germany - as it happened
National
Bus passengers tell fake racists where to get off
Politics
What's really in the Queen's handbag?
National
Germans say USA doesn't respect freedom
National
Yes, you CAN buy adult e-books before 10pm in Germany
VIDEO: Watch a 93-metre turbine crash to earth in slow motion
Gallery
Who's got a shot at the German Film Awards
Rhineland
Anger over 'child-free' beer garden
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

7,175
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd