The phoney war is over in fight for German leadership - News - The Independent

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.

Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape
music
Voices
Yes supporters gather outside the Usher Hall, which is hosting a Night for Scotland in Edinburgh
voicesBen Judah: Is there a third option for England and Scotland that keeps everyone happy?
News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'I felt like that was the lowest I’d ever felt'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleThe report and photo dedicated to the actress’s decolletage has, unsurprisingly, provoked anger
News
A plane flies close to the eruption of the Icelandic volcano
newsAnd yes, it's quite something
Sport
Tito Vilanova passed away aged just 45
footballThe club's former manager died in April, less than a year after he stood down
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch
artAnd it's even for a good cause
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
filmsDaniel Craig is believed to be donning skies as 007 for the first time
Life and Style
techCriminals are targeting an e-reader security flaw
Life and Style
tech... and together they're worth at least £100 million
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)
filmMatt Damon in talks to return
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Arts and Entertainment
Fringe show: 'Cilla', with Sheridan Smith in the title role and Aneurin Barnard as her future husband Bobby Willis
tvEllen E Jones on ITV's 'Cilla'
News
newsBut just how much does a 122-carat coloured diamond go for these days?
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

Retail Business Analyst

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Senior C++ Developer

£400 - £450 Per Annum possibly more for the right candidate: Clearwater People...

PE Teacher (Female)

Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: Teacher of Girls PE for Wiltshire scho...

Retail Business Analyst - Retail-J

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our retail client ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week