Angela Merkel received a bloody nose from voters in Hamburg yesterday. Her CDU party's support collapsed from 42.6% in 2008 to just 20% in yesterday's state elections. The elections happened early because the spectrum-transcending CDU-Green alliance formed after 2008's elections, had, not unexpectedly, collapsed. Local factors were clearly powerful, therefore, in an election that saw support for the SPD rocket from 34.1% to about 50%.
Merkel has won much praise internationally for Germany's robust economic recovery and she and her nation have become something of a model for David Cameron. His emphasis on fiscal conservatism rather than supply-side tax cuts, regional policy, movement towards vocational and technical education, investment in science, preference for manufacturing and green growth over financial deregulation and so on have a very German flavour.
My own take from the Hamburg result is to warn every Conservative: extreme volatility is now the stuff of mid-term elections. With voters less attached to any one party the swings we will see in elections are going to be bigger and the upsets more dramatic. Cameron's Coalition will go through very rough times and the unpopularity will be at least as bad as that experienced by Major and Thatcher. But recovery in electoral fortunes, if we get the big picture right, could be as dramatic as the decline.
Merkel is outperforming her general election result in national surveys but, given the opportunity and important local factors, voters have taken the opportunity to kick her hard – not least for the big bailouts to €urozone countries that have been very unpopular in Germany. Cameron (like Brown, Gillard and Obama) can expect similarly big kickings in by-elections and local elections. In yesterday's Sunday Telegraph I noted that CCHQ expect 1,000 of 5,000 Tory councillors to lose their seats in May. What we mustn't do is assume that mid-term swings are a good guide to general election results although that won't stop Jeremy Vine swinging the Snow-o-meter and warning to the contrary.