I was recently fortunate enough to visit the German Federal Chancellery, otherwise known as the ‘Bundeswaschmachine’ (that’s ‘federal washing machine’ to me and you). The colloquialism may seem comical on first hearing; yet in my opinion, it acts as a metaphor for Germany’s constitution.
Just as a washing machine relies on its various (and smaller) components to perform its function, the federal yet cohesive German political system can only function when the votes of a small state or a junior coalition partner are taken into account. It is this decentralised yet interconnected arrangement which our policy makers and constitutional designers can learn from.
The ever present arrogance associated with the well coined phrase ‘Westminster model’ is why the growth of our democracy is stunted by centralism and elitism. An archaic electoral system, an obsolete upper chamber, and a two-party system all encourage apathy. Added to this reality is the reverence which one is expected to hold for an unelected and impassive head of state.
This British arrogance stems from a specifically British brand of Conservatism which was given its greatest boost when it defeated Germany on the battlefield in the twentieth century. However, this victorious and self-congratulatory mood is no longer valued by the electorate in the 21st century. The fact that Germany succumbed to a belligerent and totalitarian regime, whilst the British (unwritten) constitution has survived to this very day is no cause for celebration.
Germany has allied reform with caution, in the shape of a flexible yet codified constitution and an impressive turnout of over 70% in the last General Election. The British constitution, on the other hand, retains components which belong to the 19th century.
An overused dictum needs to be re-asserted. The political is the economic, and the economic is the political. It is only with the birth of a transparent and viable constitutional framework that the electorate will consider investing in a government’s economic plans.
Victory can often lead to tragedy. A British and Conservative willingness to ‘change in order to conserve’ is an often forgotten by-product of the twentieth century.