The phoney war is over in fight for German leadership

THE CHALLENGER was so looking forward to this meeting. The choreography of the handshake with Russia's President had been refined to the tiniest detail, the arc lights carefully targeted on those famous white teeth, and the trademark smile practised a hundred times. Only one thing was wrong: the cameras were missing.

So it came to pass that Gerhard Schroder, upon whose telegenic grin the hopes of German Social Democrats rest in the coming elections, held a long discussion with Boris Yeltsin in Bonn last week, but the encounter failed to make the news.

Don't blame television. The night before the meeting, the German station WDR received a telephone call from the government guest house, informing them that previous arrangements were off. They were free to film President Yeltsin in the company of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, but not with the man most likely to become chancellor after September's election.

Poor Mr Schroder is not very fortunate. Criticised as "nothing but a nice tie" by government politicians, he is desperate for some display of statesman-like gravitas, but just cannot seem to get this message out to the German voters.

Last month, for example, he had trudged all the way to Berlin to cavort with Bill Clinton, only to have his face erased from the television screens.

The circumstances were similar. Television crews turned up for the meeting, but were barred by German officials. On both occasions, the foreign guests had allegedly changed their minds about the arrangements.

Not without some persuasion, one assumes. Chancellor Kohl had actively endorsed both presidents in their election campaigns, and now he was calling in his chips. With his own moment of reckoning approaching quickly, Mr Kohl's Christian Democrats continue to trail six points behind Mr Schroder's Social Democrats. In the personal popularity stakes, the challenger, 14 years younger than the incumbent, is a lap ahead.

These are indeed desperate times for the longest reigning democratic leader in the world, and desperate measures are being sought. After the phoney war of the past few months, marked by nothing more intrusive than the dissection of the opponent's policies, the Kohl camp has suddenly changed tack.

The mild-mannered career politicians running the campaign have been swept aside, the government spokesman replaced by a thick-skinned party propagandist, and responsibility for strategy handed to a hard-boiled tabloid journalist.

The "Chancellor's territorial army", as the new masterminds have been dubbed, take no prisoners. Hans-Martin Tiedje, former editor of the tabloid Bild Zeitung, is believed to be behind the increasingly shrill tone emanating from Christian Democrat headquarters.

No longer are September's elections seen as a contest about jobs, tax reforms and other yawn-provoking issues. At stake is the very future of German democracy.

A vote for Mr Schroder - runs the argument - is a vote for the crypto- Communists of the east, the Party of Democratic Socialism. And in case the red scare did not work, Otto Hauser, the new government spokesman, has likened the PDS to the Nazis.

Mr Schroder has no intention of cutting any deal with the PDS, but his party did go to bed with the reds recently in the eastern Land of Saxony- Anhalt.

Mud sticks, just as it did four years ago, when a similar "red socks" campaign helped Chancellor Kohl to capture a fourth term in office.

A repeat performance will require more, however. Mr Schroder is better suited to modern political warfare than any of the previous contestants, while Mr Kohl is getting too old to play Rambo. If the battle is to be fought with soundbites, smiles and innuendo, the challenger's chances might even improve.

The contest could still become brutally personal in true tabloid style, such as it has never been in Germany before.

At the Christian Democrat conference in Bremen, they were handing out T-shirts with the logo: "Schroder is the wrong man - three women cannot be wrong". Mr Schroder's policies are still somewhat hazy, but every German knows that the flash challenger is now on his fourth wife. And dependability is one of the most exalted German virtues.

News
More than 90 years of car history are coming to an end with the abolition of the paper car-tax disc
newsThis and other facts you never knew about the paper circle - completely obsolete tomorrow
News
people'I’d rather have Fred and Rose West quote my characters on childcare'
News
Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his inspection of the Korean People's Army (KPA) Naval Unit 167
newsSouth Korean reports suggest rumours of a coup were unfounded
Arts and Entertainment
You could be in the Glastonbury crowd next summer if you follow our tips for bagging tickets this week
music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
News
peopleSwimmer also charged with crossing double land lines and excessive speeding
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
art
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Shia LaBeouf is one of Brad Pitt's favourite actors in the world ever, apparently
filmsAn 'eccentric' choice, certainly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Marketing Manager - Central London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (Campaigns, Offlin...

Head of Marketing - Acquisition & Direct Reponse Marketing

£90000 - £135000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Marketing (B2C, Acquisition...

1st Line Service Desk Analyst

£27000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client who are...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Birmingham - Huxley Associates

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Huxley Associates are currentl...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style