It’s been at least a couple of years since fashionable opinion had it that we are living under the Fourth Reich. By giving Germany de facto control over both Europe’s core and outskirts, the eurozone crisis, on this reasoning, had fulfilled Bismarck’s dream of economic hegemony spreading to the East Mediterranean. When I visited Athens a year ago, the pictures of Frau Merkel despoiled with a toothbrush moustache showed this view had become the orthodoxy.
But there is a less sinister interpretation of Germany’s domination of Europe, which is that the triumph of the Teutonic model has lessons we should all learn. This week, Bayern Munich thumped Barcelona to set up an all-German Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund on 25 May. As our Economics Editor, Ben Chu, argued this week, Germany’s football clubs are run in a way that should make English fans wince.
Their ownership model, by which the majority of a club’s shares are owned by fans, creates institutions based on common interests – a far cry from the buyer-seller, consumer-producer model we have here. Long-term planning, huge investment in training young talent, resistance to debt and a wage-to income ratio of 37.5 per cent (compared with 64 per cent across Europe) have made these clubs financially solid and locally strong, an apt metaphor for the country as a whole. No wonder this week’s New Statesman cover asks: “Why can’t we be more like Germany?”
The answer is we can, and soon may be. Two of the most influential members of Ed Miliband’s inner circle are former academics Stewart Wood and Maurice Glasman. These men have the same area of expertise: Germany’s economy. Their project is to convince Ed Miliband to convince Britain to be more like Germany. What would that mean in practice?
Some of the following, at least: regional banks, more mutuals, worker representation on boards, more vocational training, a much bigger manufacturing sector, and whatever else fits under the banner of social democracy. Germany’s culture has an element of social authoritarianism, or reverence for rules; what my colleague John Rentoul describes as a culture of not crossing the road when there’s a red man. Miliband’s recent speeches on immigration and welfare been suffused with this.
That Champions League final is at Wembley. If the Labour leader’s acolytes have their wits about them, they will secure a pair of tickets for Miliband. Though not a pukka football fan, he could reasonably claim that he was going along not to watch 90 minutes (or more) of pulsating action, but rather to gather ideas for his party’s election manifesto.
Long derided as a return to Old Labour, such a visit would help to fashion an altogether more appealing narrative for Miliband: Neue Labour, the updated version of a creed Britain used to keep voting for.