Kohl turns to tabloid spin doctor

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The Independent Online
ROLLING up his sleeves for the coming street-fight, Chancellor Helmut Kohl dumped his chief spokesman yesterday and hired a former tabloid editor to revamp his flagging election campaign.

Ministers had been complaining for months that the message was not getting through. So now, lagging far behind the opposition in the polls, the messenger has been executed.

Peter Hausmann, the 47-year-old voice of Europe's longest-reigning heavyweight, was informed some time around noon yesterday that he was no longer in charge of a committee meeting, owing to his premature retirement from politics. Mr Hausmann had earlier pinned his hopes on a parliamentary seat, in the colours of Bavaria's Christian Social Union.

Coming on the day when a government minister was trying to explain the oversight of not reporting dangerous nuclear leaks to the public, the dismissal of the chief spokesman was not all that surprising.

Mr Hausmann had been criticised as somewhat ineffectual, caught reluctantly in an impossible job, failing to be the permanently smiling face of a media-unfriendly administration. He is to be succeeded by Otto Hauser, an MP of Mr Kohl's Christian Democrat party.

Little is known of Mr Hauser, but rather more about the second person to enter Mr Kohl's service yesterday. He is Hans-Hermann Tiedje, former editor of Bild Zeitung, the most successful German tabloid, who joins the Kohl bandwagon as "campaign adviser".

Mr Hausmann was of the old school, a serious journalist ill-suited to the dirty world of politics. No one has ever slandered Mr Tiedje as an intellectual. His career is as far down-market as one can get in Germany, and his arrival heralds a shift in Mr Kohl's election strategy.

The Chancellor has been obliterated by his glitzy opponent, the Social Democrats' Gerhard Schroder. The challenger is young, vigorous, and smiles all the time. With four months to go to the elections and the Chancellor six points behind in the polls, there will be a relaunch of the Kohl- product. Expect him to talk about Europe a lot less, and to pop into discos in search of the youth vote. And the Chancellor's frame is certain to start filling the television screens.

Content - who needs that? Now the fight is on.