At last we can return to sanity. The television debates are over, the political posters are coming down, the mad hysteria is at an end. After the chaos of a general election, we can now return to consensus politics. The raving revolutionaries of the social democratic left, who think that just because they do a day’s work it somehow gives them the right to get a pension, resume the fight to protect the rights and privileges of the oppressed masses (me). Fat conservative bankers can continue with their project to bankrupt nations whilst making the top 2% of Austria richer. The cycling obsessed Greens consolidate their fate as the everlasting party of opposition (and always left behind on a bike with a slightly flat tyre). And the ludicrous far right, triumphant on the night, will be resolute in their avowed aim to undermine, subvert and argue the toss. In short, it is a right old mess. Toffs, landowners, professional politicians and party members at the top, prols at the bottom and me in the middle making a fat pile of cash out of both of them.
So where are we? Much of the talk on Monday was how the two ruling parties had taken a hit. They were bruised. A black eye. A slap round the chops with a warning to reform or be subsumed by the Freedom Party and its allies. Faymann and his Socialists may have garnered the most votes but lost 2% support on a turnout of 74%. More importantly, it made me think that without Vienna, the Socialists would be struggling which reinforces my contention that Vorarlberg and Tirol – Innsbruck can stay as they voted Green – should be cast into an Alpine ravine and left to fend for themselves (maybe they can join Switzerland).
The Conservatives also lost ground but despairingly not as much as people feared. This was in spite of running a candidate who was more insipid than cold tea and orchestrating a campaign that seemed as if it had been thought up by the most impotent political strategists since Neil Kinnock’s people in 1980s Britain confidently asserted that everyone loves a ginger. More damningly still, the Peoples Party were at the centre of the political corruption which has stalked Austrian politics since I became a father … and people still voted for them! Furthermore, if they can get 23% after this at a time when they also had to ride out the biggest economic crisis since I spent my grant and exceeded my overdraft by November in my first term of university, then imagine for a moment what they could do when conditions were more favourable.
The Greens also failed to capitalise on their slogan of clean politics (truly a missed opportunity) despite a charismatic leader and their portrayal as the only party outside the political and financial scandals of the last decade or so (which they are). Like the Greens everywhere, they tend to do well in the bigger cities (okay, this is Austria, only Vienna is big) and to be fair they got their highest share of the vote ever. But they seem incapable of breaking out beyond the 15% mark and will remain a party of opposition unless they sell their souls and get into bed with the devil.
Speaking of which, what news of Frank and his Bond-billionaire funded party of well-paid disciples? It was probably his badly misguided comments concerning a return of the death penalty that quietly confirmed in many people’s minds Frank’s lack of political skill. As he flailed on live television, back-tracking quicker than Billionaire with his pants round his ankles about to lose his last million, he pretty much signed his own political death warrant. Cue faint shuffling of former supporters moving quietly but determinedly away.
And so who were the winners? Well, the Freedom Party and its unassuming leader Heinz Strache grabbed a 4% increase. Mostly from a disaffected and listless electorate demanding change from the red-black dominance, worrying about Austria giving too much money to Greek banks, and some other xenophobic claptrap. We have been here before with the far-right (no jokes, now) in 1999 when the really charismatic head heterosexual Jörg Haider clinched a whopping 27% of the share (disturbingly this would have put him as the winner in 2013).
And lest us not forget the NEOS (The New Liberal Forum or something – all I know is they are pink. Somebody has to be). Ignored before the election, the pinks are the product of the dreaded protest vote and collared a sensational nine seats in parliament (shafting the Socialists or Greens in the process). I am not even sure they have that many candidates to fill nine seats, but fill them they must. Moreover, the victory is even more surprising given that the leader Matthias Strolz is from Vorarlberg in the west (a sort of schizophrenic Switzerland) and his hairline is receding faster than the glaciers of the Alps.
So what does this mean for me and my fellow residents of Austria (but mostly me)? Well first the good news: I no longer have to write about the election campaign and can instead devote my literary endeavours to the burning issues emanating forth from Zeitgeist Vienna (integration, banking reform and who will win Die Grosse Chance). Until then we are destined for a coalition once more (say what you will about Austrian politics but it is, since 1938, anything but volatile). And as they won the most seats, the Reds (Social Democrats) get first crack at forming an alliance. Almost certainly they will seek a continuation of pre-election status quo and align with the Blacks (Conservatives), and then we can all go back to moaning about Mariahilferstrasse, drinking Melange and worrying about Austria Vienna’s expected humiliation in the Champions League.
And the bad news? If the Blacks refuse, sensing the chance to be the main player in a future government, it is not inconceivable that they snub the Reds and seek solace in the oily paws of the Blues (far-right Freedom) alongside either Frank or the NEOS (the pink ones). Then again, one of Frank’s key messages (the one he didn’t botch) was against corruption, nepotism and cronyism in Austrian politics, so it is difficult to see how he could sidle up to the Blues and Blacks – both parties at the centre of most of the corruption – without some serious concessions or accusations of opportunist hypocrisy. Being a successful billionaire does not preclude this. Would the NEOS (the pink ones) join a coalition? A week ago nobody thought they would even be in parliament, let alone a junior partner in anything. But given a whiff of power, I know what I would do.
Most worrying of all is the simple fact that if Team Stronach and the BZÖ didn’t exist (collective share about 9%, votes effectively taken from the Freedom Party) then there is a very good chance that Strache would have commanded the largest share. Letting the far right get 27% in 1999 was unfortunate. 23% this time was careless. But a possible 30% for Strache in five years time if there is not some serious moves to reform amongst the other major parties? That would be unconscionable.
© RJ Barratt 2013
Author’s note: My gratitude to Messers Richard Curtis and Ben Elton for help in writing the first paragraph in this posting.