I had promised myself not to get too political on this blog, but the recent demise of Lady Thatcher has me wanting to just get a few thoughts off my mind, to whom it may concern.
While many Germans know the name of Margaret Thatcher and her being described as ‘the Iron Lady’, this is about as far as the general grasp of English politics of the last 30 years goes for most. Today, Mrs Merkel, several generations of politicians behind Mrs Thatcher, enjoys a similar standing in the rest of Europe or even the world. Not totally undeserved, I think. But the picture goes deeper, and it has a twist.
When Mrs Thatcher of the Conservative Party came to be Prime Minister, the power of the British labour unions was incredibly strong, you could say overpowering. At the same time, the economy was not doing especially well. So Thatcher killed the unions, privatised everything and introduced neoliberalism into the UK. Everyone was forthwith responsible for their own well-being. Which sounded great, and worked fine for those enterprising enough or already having something to call their own, and perhaps for those who bought and sold their council houses at the right time, but that is another story. Then came John Major, again Conservative, whom I guess no one will remember, and then Tony Blair, Labour, and both basically continued what Thatcher had started. Though Blair made it sound nicer and somehow more enlightening, not least by calling his party New Labour.
In Germany, before chancellor Gerhard Schröder came to power to succeed an ageing Helmut Kohl of the German Conservative Party CDU, things looked a bit different. Germany was basically doing fine. The Germans weren’t liked in the world, but they were respected. Back then, Germany was more of a welfare state than most countries. Thing was, there were some big clouds on the horizon. Most of all, the debts of German reunification were mounting up.
In addition, the great and uncontrolled flow of immigrants in the 50s, 60s and 70s, mostly from Turkey, and at the time basically demanded by a thriving German industry of the post-war era, did for some reason not plan on going home. Around the same time, and this perhaps accelerated by the arrival of private television, an increasing number of people had got used to comfortably using the welfare system to their own good. More than anyone, the people at the top of the food chain in Germany did not like this, as it was the taxes they weren’t paying that were being spent on a growing precariat. And their prayers were answered with the advent of Gerhard Schröder of the German Labour Party SPD, which wasn’t called New Labour, but could have been.
Following Schröder’s Agenda 2010, low wage employment was created. The industry thanked him, and with lots of advertising it helped convince many of the middle class and most of the petit bourgeois that all this was good and right. At the same time, the long beforehand planned expansion of the European Union towards the East brought in millions of cheap workers and made using cheap labour directly in other European countries a trifle. Meanwhile, the introduction of the Euro forced true wages down and made exports more profitable. The industry thanked again. Back then, it wasn’t clear to the broader public that with losing the Deutschmark, you had also lost the right to print your own money. Next, the rules on banking were relaxed with the help of such people as Jörg Asmussen. Now it was the banks that thanked. Then, some pension schemes were privatised, and the insurance companies thanked, making such people as Carsten Maschmeyer to semi-billionaires. Around that time, Maschmeyer’s friend chancellor Schröder lost the next election to Merkel of the German Conservative Party CDU. On election night he appeared on TV, almost behaving like a coke-head, so agitated was he at the loss of power. And so the era Merkel started.
Angela Merkel was raised and socialised in the former German Democratic Republic, the DDR, mostly characterised by not being especially democratic. She apparently was in some junior role responsible for a job titled ‘agitation and propaganda’, whatever that means. Not that people can’t change. In fact, changing, adapting and always turning with the wind is probably one of Merkel’s most defining characteristics. After ending the end of atomic power that the red-green government under Schröder had initiated, she once again ended the ending of the end after the reactor accident of Fukishima in Japan. Talk about being populist. Having studied physics and coming from a clerical background, these characteristics however were and are instead emphasised in the same media that helped her become chancellor.
And then, with the reactions to the so-called financial crisis changing the face of society all around the world, Merkel proclaimed the need for a market-conform democracy. I don’t know what that is, but it makes me shiver. Today, for some reason probably having to do with Germany agreeing to pay all future debts of Europe, all eyes are on Merkel, either as mother, godmother or stepmother. I wonder which turns out to be true.