Both sides in Bonn claim Blair for their own

Imre Karacs, in the second of a series on the election from abroad, on how the Germans see it
Click to follow
The Independent Online
The German parliament's bookshop has recently added two new volumes to its stock. Alongside memoirs and biographies of home-grown politicians, the MPs can now read about the blue-eyed wonder whom everybody expects to move into Downing Street soon; a left-winger about to sweep "an inherently conservative nation" off its feet. Tony Blair, like the Spice Girls, is making headlines in Germany, smiling out of every newspaper and magazine.

His imminent success - Germans' slavish respect for poll statistics will not allow any doubt to creep in - is the clincher in almost all political debates. To the leaderless Social Democrats, Mr Blair is living proof that the left can still win in western Europe, if it can find a Messiah. To the right, who applaud Mr Blair's "courage" in repudiating the welfare state of old and dragging a herd of dinosaurs into the 21st century, the prime-minister-in-waiting embodies the bankruptcy of socialism. Both sides feel that the Tories are a spent force, and look to New Labour to consolidate rather than reverse the achievements of the past 18 years.

On balance, most German observers praise Britain's Conservative Government for arresting the country's economic decline, but are horrified by the social cost. "The Tories carried out a radical restructuring of the country and overcame the worst economic crisis since the war," commented last week's Woche. The paper, like its rivals, has run a series of charts contrasting Britain's economic near-miracle with the lacklustre performance of its competitors. In growth, job creation and incoming foreign investments, Britain blows Germany out of the water.

The falling British unemployment rate - now not much more than half the German figure - has surfaced in parliamentary debates in Bonn, but this has not led to public demands for the British model to be followed. The reason is the negative side of the equation; Germans returning from weekends in "cool" London bring tales of deprivation unseen in their own country. Britain is a country, the media report, where capitalism is so rampant that a rail company leaves a corpse by the track for hours in order to keep its profit margins intact.

There is, therefore, no surprise in Germany at the evident paradox of an economically successful government on its way to defeat. Boom or no boom, Woche writes, Britons of every class are terrified of falling out of their precious jobs into a Dickensian morass. When they cast their ballots on 1 May, they will be voting against that fear.

There are of course many in Germany, particularly on the libertarian right, who would quite like to feed their own society a dose of Thatcherism. The banks and big business are trying to push Deutschland AG towards the more dynamic Anglo-Saxon model, one in which "share-holder value" takes precedence over industrial harmony.

Germany's election campaign next year is expected to be fought on similar ground, and its outcome will be heavily influenced by developments across the Channel. Many feel that the future of German prosperity is increasingly determined in Wall Street, the City of London, and in Britain's low-wage factories. That is, after all, where German jobs are going.