Scruffs of '68 find sex suits the voters

In German politics, the cut of your jacket gives more kudos than a radical past, writes Imre Karacs
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THE power struggles within Germany's Red-Green government have taken a sinister turn. The usual weapons of political combat are being cast aside as the leading protagonists don expensive suits in a shameless bid to woo voters. A nation which for years had nothing more exciting to watch than Helmut Kohl's growing girth is in shock.

First, Germans were treated to the metamorphosis of Joschka Fischer, who transformed himself from revolutionary to fat post-revolutionary, then into a lean marathon-runner with an understanding of Realpolitik and a penchant for shiny suits.

Then Chancellor Gerhard Schroder was unmasked as an Armani fetishist, posing in his sickeningly expensive new outfit on the pages of a fashion magazine. And last week Jurgen Trittin, the Green Environment Minister, trumped them both with a seductive appearance in the magazine that only three months ago had relaunched the "cashmere Chancellor".

Mr Trittin needs an introduction. He picks fights he cannot win, inevitably suffers humiliating defeats, and has a knack of making enemies. To suggest he is not widely liked would be a gross understatement. He is probably the second least popular politician on the planet, after Slobodan Milosevic. Suffice to say that Mr Trittin would be happy to see the price of petrol tripled in car-mad Germany, but has disappointed Green diehards by achieving nothing so far. If he survives the summer in his present job, it will only be because Mr Schroder is on holiday for the rest of the season.

But the Environment Minister is a natty dresser, that nobody can deny. Even on the anti-nuclear barricades of yester- year, Mr Trittin's leather jacket was conspicuous for its sartorial elegance, every bristle in his trademark moustache stood to attention, and his jeans were always immaculately ironed. He was jogging years before Mr Fischer, his greatest rival in the Green party, discovered healthy living, and he adopted his all-black outfit soon after it became fashionable.

Still, it must have been surprising for readers of Germany's Life & Style magazine to be confronted with the portfolio of the second senior government figure in three months. Mr Trittin had turned up for the photo-sessions in his usual dark outfit, but was persuaded to try on a white shirt. The result is an eight-page sequence of brooding images of a man greatly misunderstood.

The quarrelsome Environment Minister whom the public sees as a loud-mouthed wimp comes across here as the strong, silent type; a man of immense sex- appeal. He receives a lot of fan mail, the readers are informed, including many explicit offers from women.

This may be the key to success in the cauldron of test- osterone that is contemporary German politics. The exploits of Messrs Schroder and Fischer - both recently acquired their fourth wives - are well known. Mr Trittin, who has jealously guarded his privacy until now, is putting himself on the market. At 44, he is younger than his rivals, and single. Who knows, he may even start rising in the popularity stakes.

Meanwhile, the beauty contest is helping to redefine left-wing politics. One of the abiding moments in post-war Germany was the swearing-in of a regional government minister named Joschka Fischer back in 1985, the first Green to enter office anywhere in the world. For the ceremony he wore white sneakers and an oversized sports jacket. Now, no one would bat an eyelid if he turned up in a fur coat. The children of 1968 really have arrived.