Thatcher, Mandy and the Germans
TEXT: HARRY MOUNT
BILD: THE MARGRET THATCHER FOUNDATION
”Does Margaret Thatcher have any children who might be interested in running Germany?” It took a brief run-through of the careers of Mark and Carol Thatcher to convince the 30-year-old head of a German think-tank, who had asked the question, that they might not be best placed to bring Germany out of its current recession - declared official last week.
But that didn't stop the other German delegates at this year’s Konigswinter conference - the most influential of Anglo-German conferences, set up by Adenauer in 1950 - from declaring their desperation for a leader cast in the mould of Mark and Carol's mother.
Germany is not in as bad a shape as Britain was in 1979, but there are many of the same problems - high unemployment, unreconstructed unions, rocketing welfare costs. And there's no one there to sort it out. Gerhard Schroder is not considered up to the task. And it's still not clear who might lead the opposition Christian Democrats into the next election to clear up the mess. Oh, how they all longed for a Frau Thatcher to do it.
The adolescent crack troops of New Labour were all there - David Miliband, the education minister, Andrew Adonis, one of Tony Blair's chief advisers, and Ben Bradshaw, the Foreign Office minister - and they tried to stem the tide of obsessive love for Mrs Thatcher. "You may say Germany's suffering from bad leadership," said Mr Bradshaw, "but we're not doing so well ourselves."
Sharp intake of breath all round at the prospect of an assassination attempt on the Führer. "We're lucky enough to have Tony Blair as leader," said Mr Bradshaw, smiling at his joke. "But the current Tory leader, and the last two, are really not much good."
Still, the Germans were unpersuaded. Still, they kept on asking for a Thatcher. To the visitor, it was a strange feeling, taking part in a beautifully run conference - buses on time to the minute, hurrying along the immaculately kept streets - that was devoted to saying what a state Germany was in. It felt like being a deeply troubled psychiatrist, wondering what to say to the patient on the couch, who seemed in exceptionally good nick. The young Germans there - lawyers, academics, civil servants - assured me, though, that there was real concern over the future of their jobs and pensions.
Enter Peter Mandelson. As if the Germans hadn't done enough self-crucifixion over their economy, the Prince of Darkness was laid on as an after-dinner speaker to hammer the nails in.
Mr Mandelson is like an 18-year-old who has just won a scholarship to a top university. The world's oyster is apparently still wide open; collective amnesia has set in over the generous ways of Geoffrey Robinson and that awkward business with the Hindujas and the passport.
Over the course of the three days of the conference, Mr Mandelson was touted as a shoo-in for a series of knock-out jobs: a return as Ulster Secretary to clear up the Stakeknife wounds; ambassador to Berlin (the current incumbent, Sir Paul Lever, stepped down at the weekend); ambassador to Washington; oh, and President of Europe, as soon as the post is created after the European constitutional convention is wound up in a month's time.
Mr Mandelson was certainly reading from Tony Blair's notes - and he acknowledged that he was fairly familiar with the views of the Prime Minister - when he launched a broadside at the way Germany conducted its foreign policy over the war, and how disastrous it would be to stick with what he called "an arguably doomed alliance with France and Russia".
The Germans in the room politely applauded as Mr Mandelson went through Germany's faults. You shouldn't expect too much of Germany in foreign and defence matters was his line, not least because Germany didn't want too much to be expected of it. Germany has been so useless at defence matters that "the EU's security policy has amounted to little more than Britain plus France (and too often Britain minus France)".
He even went as far as to break the first Basil Fawlty rule of dealing with Germans - don't mention those awkward years in the middle of the last century. Germany, he said, is in danger of falling into "a very 'old' European approach, which up to 1945 failed our continent and failed Germany in particular".
At his own admission, Mr Mandelson acknowledged that he sounded like a parody of Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady - "Why can't a German be more like an Englishman?"
Much as he tried to deflect this accusation, that is exactly how he came across. And that is exactly what the Germans at the conference were asking, although, to be precise, they wanted to know, "Why can't a German be more like one Englishwoman in particular?"
The self-abasement was endless; that is, until it came to the question of joining the euro and accepting the conclusions of the constitutional convention. The only time that normal service was resumed, and the Germans could mock the British for being slow, stuck-in-the-mud, outdated, was when the euroglint came into their eyes.
But none of them could explain the paradox. Here you all are, I asked, saying how wonderful Britain is and how you long to emulate us, but still you want us to introduce the one great measure that, at a stroke, would bring our economic performance in line with yours.
It took Gisela Stuart, the British MP, born in Germany, who sits on the constitutional convention, to sum up how I felt at the inability of any of the Germans to answer my question.
"Schadenfreude," she said, "is a word invented by the Germans to sum up a peculiarly British feeling."
This article first appeared in the London Daily Telegraph (Wednesday 21 May 2003, page 22).
SCHWERPUNKT MARKE MENSCH
EDITORIAL VON BJÖRN BRÜCKERHOFF
SUPERSTARS ALS SUPER-GEWINNQUELLE
GÖTTLICHE HILFE FÜR MARKENMANAGER
ARMANI: MARKE UND KUNST
25 MARKEN FÜR SCHLECHTE ZEITEN
CASTRO ANTE PORTAS
LASS IHN RAUS, DEN TIGER
VOM JÄGER ZUM MEISTER DER MARKENWELT
MARKE MANN, MARKE FRAU
UPDATE DES GÜTIGEN GROSSVATERS
THATCHER, MANDY AND THE GERMANS
BRAND EINS: FEUERN UND VERGESSEN
ALLE AUSGABEN IM ARCHIV
COVER DER AUSGABE 32