Excellent piece in The Times this morning by Danny Finklestein about Angela Merkel’s departure “ World’s centre-right lacks a unifying figure” . But it is missing the key factor as far as Britons are concerned. Here the “mainstream Right” has been routed by the “populist Right”. A few remnants of traditional One Nation conservatism remain but they are out of power and office and reduced to heckling impotently from the sidelines.
Sir Keir Starmer is struggling to rebuild the “mainstream Left” but as in the Conservative Party the heavy feet of populist extremism stand on him. Corbyn may have gone (probably not, actually) but his simplistic ideology lives on , and not just in the shadows. In the Conservatives the simplistic ideologies are firmly entrenched in power.
The Clinton/Blair “Third Way” was a bit misleading. Actually both leaders were pretty firmly of the pragmatic centre. Bush Mark Two, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, found himself after 9/11 being steered by the NeoCons – not a group that the Bushes had ever joined. Dubya’s Dad had been Reagan’s Vice President and was arguably a restraint on Ronnie who was not really a NeoCon anyway.
Twenty years ago 9/11 gave the NeoConservative movement a shot in the arm in America and, in due course, in Britain. The disasters of Afghanistan and Iraq showed the foolishness of western military intervention which is so very visible today. Driving the military adventures was raw nationalism. Here Tony Blair was no less nationalistic and equally prepared to fly the flag.
If I’d been German I’d have voted for Angela Merkel and I’m a liberal – the SDP was the last political party of which I was a member. Like Lord Finkelstein I was also a Social Democrat – though I can’t imagine taking the step towards the Tories that he did! But the Conservatives of John Major and, to a much lesser extent of David Cameron, were not the rabid Rightists who are in power today.
Angela Merkel is not an ideologue she is a Stateswoman. Practical, thoughtful, honest and decent. And very capable. Her political position eschews ideology – she is an internationalist, a free Marketeer, and a supporter of a mixed economy balancing the public and private sectors in a pragmatic way. Under her leadership, almost for the first time, Germany has atoned for its past – a past which had put Margaret Thatcher off reunification. Without that atonement a reunited Germany would have been difficult to sell.
No British politician would atone for Empire in the way that Angela Merkel has not only for the Nazi era but also for the gross crimes of East Germany, the country in which she grew up as a child. In Britain the mythical “glorious past” has to be rhetorically present in any ambitious politician. Tell the truth about imperial motives and excesses and you’ll find that there are no votes in it.
So in bidding farewell to the excellent Frau Merkel I would less be seeking a “Centre Right” replacement but more someone from Left, Right or Centre who has her internationalist outlook, honesty and pragmatism. The Germans learned the very hard way indeed about the dangers of inflexible, nationalist ideology. It’s a lesson that we in Britain need to learn very quickly as well.