Pirates Languish, Rousing Occasionally to Devour Each Other
Last January the Pirate Party polled its lowest vote in eighteen months in the regional elections in Niedesachsen: 2.1%. Some commentators minimized the significance of this because the region is relatively rural and somewhat short on the demographic which has comprised the core of Pirate support: (male), young and urban dwellers. But even where such voters were to be found in numbers – Hanover, Braunschweig, Oldenberg and Göttingen – they scored very badly, rarely exceeding 3%. Overall they did not even approach the 5% threshold required to enter the regional Parliament.
More ominously for the Pirate’s future prospects the Green Party vote grew strongly, a source from which they have successfully syphoned quite some support in the last eighteen months. Federal elections take place this September (alongside regionals in Bavaria and Hessen) but the PP’s chances of success are fading; opinion polls in recent months have them languishing around 3%
Recipe for Disaster
In part it’s a familiar story: a party, propelled to success by a generalised alienation from the political class, finds itself the beneficiary of protest votes and the falls out of fashion. Here it must be said that their elected representatives have attempted to transform themselves into ‘serious politicians’ in a most boring fashion, and without any success. Instead, the effort to define themselves coherently on a national level has led them to disintegrating.
This fragmentation derives from the lack of a clear (or even vague?) ideological framework framework. This is encapsulated in the tension over the policy demand for the basic income – as supported by the Berlin party – and the vision of the pirates as a social liberals in some other regions. This latter position would include party leader Bernd Schlumer, as well as the vice Sebastien Nerz (a former member of the Christian Democrats), and is now evolving its own internal organisational caucus in the form of the so-called the Frankfurt Kollegium. Meanwhile Johannes Ponader, the former political secretary perceived as being on the left, has committed hara-kiri, after having been subjected to a public lynching cheered on by a media scandalised at his unashamed drawing of social welfare and pruriently fascinated by his ‘polyamorous lifestyle’. All this has been accompanied by regular resignations from the collective leadership exposing a serious lack of solidarity from bottom to top. Mantras about the modernisation of politics through technology, participation and transparency are evidently not adequate.
To make matters worse the Pirates will go into the September’s election at a major financial disadvantage. Party financing in Germany is sourced largely from the state. The amount received is based on a formula whose essential elements are (i) number of votes received (ii) amount of money raised from own members. Because the Pirates have few fee paying members (perhaps as low as 11,000) they will get just 800,000 euros, despite their recent electoral success. To put this in context, two extreme right parties the NPD and Republikaner will receive a million and a half each – neither of these parties are in the Federal Parliament and both have been massively outvoted by the Pirates in regional elections over the last eighteen months. The CDU will receive 46 million! Elections are about money, and the PP not having much means that they cannot afford full time employees and all that stuff.
And while 2011 it was enough for the PP to be the ‘party of the internet’ in order to attract some support, but their sweep of victories awakened the other parties to the branding upgrade they required. In the last year both CDU and SPD have launched their own digital associations in an attempt to close the modernity deficit. In the debate over the introduction of a neighbouring right for newspapers even the CSU’s digital politics speaker opposed the so-called Google tax.
When in Doubt, Digital Rights are Always Good…
Now I’m sceptical about elections and representative democracy etc but if you’re going to play the game, hey, be smart about it, rather than behaving like a bunch of ingenues. Instead, even on issues which they should own they appear incapable of communicating their positions.
Most recently Telekom has been kite-flying the end of flat-rate broadband in a move which spells a clear threat to net neutrality and likely also a move to increase the gouging of consumers. Likewise the Government has failed to put an end to the copyright shakedown industry knows as the ‘abmahnung process’ whereby as many as 4.3 million internet users have received demands from lawyers for copyright infringement payments (between 400 and 2000 euros) in the last seven years. In all of the fractiousness they might want to get back to what they know to be shared ground. More will be revealed at the next party conference which takes place this month in Neustadt.
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