AfD's Bernd Lucke. Photo by blu-news.org (Flickr CC)
If you're at a loose end this weekend, Germany's youngest political party is holding its national party conference in Erfurt. Of course, Alternative für Deutschland is only the youngest party in terms of the length of time it's existed (less than a year), not in the average age of its members, which is between dad-who-can't-do-Twitter and grumpy-pensioner. Even the young Alternative for Germany are, spiritually, miserable old duffers: while their dads are always banging on about bringing back the Deutschmark, the AfD's youth movement this week launched a Facebook campaign against the new wave of feminism.
You can't blame the AfD for being in a bad mood about the way things are going. They've been getting a lot of bad press. In fact, ALL the press they've ever had has been bad. For a party that's famously made up mainly of middle class, conservative, male academics (two-thirds of its original membership had PhDs, and 86 percent of these were men), you'd think the conservative press would be cradling this newborn as one of their own. But no: Axel Springer has cast those venerable professors onto the hillside like so many Spartan babies. "Political amateurs," Bild snorted derisively last April. And this month, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, a paper that you need a doctorate to buy, declared dismissively that the AfD was being taken over by "Bible-loyal Protestants" who favour referendums on mosque-building, no adoption rights for gay couples, and home-schooling. Specifically, the paper quoted Beatrix von Storch, one of the AfD's candidates in the European election, who said, "Multiculturalism's task is to homogenize the peoples, and to eradicate their culture and religion." The AfD was becoming, the FAS concluded with a shudder, "the German Tea Party."
The professors do not take kindly to being compared to Sarah Palin's hordes, or to Nigel Farage's nationalist, anti-euro UKIP. Those people are beneath them, and they've spent the whole week telling any reporter who can still be arsed to ask that they are "a party of reason" beyond the old left and right Denkstrukturen. That's why they've been diligently screening new members for far-right connections, and why they're now in favour of allowing asylum seekers to work. It's also why they've decided to drop the "scrap the euro" policy from their manifesto - now it's more "scrap the euro slightly".
But trying to be anti-populist poses a problem for a populist party. Apart from explaining to everyone why the euro was never going to work if only people had asked them, the AfD's main purpose is to provide a roof for Germany's disaffected bourgeoisie. Their niche is the people who think Merkel is too soft but who are too sophisticated to vote Nazi. It's a tough market to crack, and it poses a dilemma: how can they convince people they're not nutters but still get the nutter vote? Are there any reasonable nutters out there?