Friday, April 23, 2010

Clegg captures German votes, hearts

British-German relations would, you might think, be pretty far down the scale of Vital Issues in the current British election.

Yet, they were curiously introduced into the (surprisingly lively) campaign trail via a 2002 article by Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.

When an MEP, Clegg wrote what I find to be a quite insightful and personal reflection on British attitudes toward Germany. Although this is hardly news, perhaps, he quite effectively uses memories of a student exchange trip to highlight how those attitudes have remained largely mired in the Second World War.

And he concludes thus:

All nations have a cross to bear, and none more so than Germany with its memories of Nazism. But the British cross is more insidious still. A misplaced sense of superiority, sustained by delusions of grandeur and a tenacious obsession with the last war, is much harder to shake off. I wish Mr Puhle and Mr Sawartzki well. We need to be put back in our place.

This might have remained largely in the archives had Mr. Clegg not emerged as a surprisingly popular figure, according to polls, after what was seen as his strong performance in the first party leaders' debate.

As a result of that, the above passage was worked into one of those typically subtle Daily Mail headlines: 'Clegg in Nazi Slur on Britain'.

And you can find plenty of frothy outrage in the comments that followed.

Still, Clegg can look on the bright side, having no doubt wrapped up the German vote, which is, of course, decisive in every British election.

Actually, it's been odd being in London during this whole 'controversy', not least watching the Conservative papers turning in goose lock-step yesterday to aim their fire in Clegg's direction and, today, to annoint David Cameron as the clear victor in last night's second debate. (From the Labour side, the Mirror's headline 'One foot in the Dave' has the same quality: today's headlines are analysed at the New Statesman here.)

Being familiar with two other countries (Germany and the US) where most of the mainstream press tends to observe at least a surface-level neutrality in its campaign coverage, the Pravda-like partisan contortions of the British papers is pretty breathtaking.

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