When I became a German citizen last year, it was just in time to vote in the September federal elections. Given my political leanings, I had two options: the Social Democrats (SPD) and the Greens.
(I must say in passing that I feel fortunate, as there are two mainstream parties in this country that -- despite various frustrations and discontents with each of them -- I can vote for, with at least some degree of conviction and enthusiasm.)
Anyway, I was, in the end, convinced to give both my votes to the SPD because: 1) I thought they hadn't done nearly as bad a job of governing as the general opinion held (so, they had my sympathies) 2) I wanted to ensure that the Liberals (FDP) didn't make into government 3) I sought to strengthen the SPD against the competition they were facing from further left (Die Linke) and 4) I felt satisfaction in voting -- for the first time in my life -- for a genuinely social democratic party with a tradition reaching back into the nineteenth century whose history, all-in-all, I think holds up quite well.
The result of that election: the SPD had its lowest vote ever in a federal election and the FDP and Die Linke had their highest.
I am truly someone with his finger on the pulse of German political opinion.
Still, in retrospect I feel a certain sense of vindication, partly since the government that did come into power has, largely because of the FDP, become a bit of a (bad) joke. But it is also partly down to the (perhaps sentimental) feeling of having 'voted my conscience', since, to be honest, I hadn't really studied the pros and cons of any major party's policies on pensions or health insurance reform.
These somewhat random thoughts are inspired by another election, one taking place today across the sleeve.
My connection to the British political world is, in one sense, rather abstract, since I don't live there but merely work there. (And, as things are looking, this connection may soon become more abstract still.)
Nonetheless, I've been paying attention to this short but intense campaign (the one main virtue of British elections is that they are mercifully brief): this has partly been because of getting swept up in the issue 'on location' from my various regular haunts in London and partly out of the usual mixture of personal and professional motivations that keep my attention glued to that oddly compelling little North Sea archipelago.
(Moreover as someone who -- in a former job -- sought vainly to explain to German law students the intricacies of the 'unwritten' (or, more precisely, partly-written) British constitution, I'm as fascinated as anyone to see how it holds up if it should come to that situation described by the wonderful phrase 'a hung parliament'.)
And I've also been paying attention to the opinions of friends and of the fellow bloggers I regularly read on the election.
It's a bit of a mixed bag.
I've found that one (somewhat older) friend in London will be voting Tory for the first time in his life as a result of a fairly unhinged rage at New Labour that, to be honest, I find a bit hard to comprehend (not the anger, but rather the intensity and consequences). I've heard a couple of others say that they're leaning toward the Liberals now that it looks like that vote won't be a complete waste. Norm is supporting Labour, on the basis of social justice. Ken McLeod sides with Labour as 'Labour is still the only party that the British working class has come up with.' Geoff thinks the Liberal Democrats deserve a chance. Francis offers some thoughtful and personal perspective the issue and urges, with the aim of electoral reform, a strong vote for the Lib Dems.
It is that issue (along with their, by British standards, remarkably unconstipated view of 'Europe') that, in my view, makes the Lib Dems certainly appealing.
At a conference in Belgium recently, a conversation with a dear friend and colleague turned to politics. Somewhat wearily, he admitted that his political commitments had cooled somewhat over the years. If I recall correctly, he said he had essentially boiled them down to the relatively straightforward principle that he will vote for that party which will likely, however slightly, move Britain's level of inequality closer to that of Sweden and further away from that of Brazil.
I've been thinking about this ever since, in the context of considering my own declining political expectations, and I find this a perfectly sensible position. It (along with my irrational and sentimental attachment to family history) tends to move my support, however virtual, slightly toward Labour.
But I think that Francis may have it right when he concludes:
I have every confidence that the people of Britain will following this general election get the government they deserve. And it will at best be mediocre.
It's a very gloomy day here on our bit of the Rhine. I hope it's a bit more cheerful on the Thames, Mersey, Humber and Tyne (and wherever else) for those of you off to the polling stations.
Given the problems we (as in we Europeans and human beings) face, I think we're going to need all the cheering up we can find.
[UPDATE] It seems I may have somewhat misrepresented Francis's argument. Which he explains clearly here.