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Nobody's Perfect Diese Bundestagswahl war very British

Angela Merkel ist Maggie Thatcher ähnlicher, als viele denken. Und die Umstände ihrer Wiederwahl sind es erst recht. Unser Lieblingsbrite Ian McMaster erklärt, was die Rolling Stones über die weitere Karriere der Kanzlerin wissen - but now let's switch to English.
Maggie Thatcher: Drei Wahlsiege und ein schmachvoller Rücktritt

Maggie Thatcher: Drei Wahlsiege und ein schmachvoller Rücktritt

Foto: Dave Caulkin/ APHS262809

As a Brit who has lived in Germany - or, to be more accurate, Bavaria - for nearly 25 years, I have rarely felt so at home as during the recent federal elections.

This is not, I hasten to add, because I was allowed to take part in this democratic process. Oh, no. As a non-German, no matter how long I live here, and how much I pay in taxes, I will not be allowed to vote at the federal level. (As an EU-citizen, I can vote in local elections and in those for the European Parliament, presumably because nobody thinks that these matter.)

Didn't the Americans fight against their British colonial rulers on the principle of "no taxation without representation"? They even threw good old British tea into Boston Harbour as a protest. I am tempted to do the same with German beer in Hamburg, in full view of my colleagues at SPIEGEL. I suspect no one will care.

Angie, you have been warned

To make things worse, the Brits won't let me vote in their elections either. I've been away too long, you see (more than 15 years). So this made it all the more comforting to me that the German federal elections were so "very British".

Let me explain. First, a female leader wins an election for the third time. Yep, been there, done that - in 1979, 1983 and 1987. You remember, or have heard of, our "Iron Lady", I am sure. Over her years in office, she also killed off, metaphorically of course, any opposition from the men within her cabinet.

It didn't end happily. On 22 November 1990, three and a half years after her third electoral victory, Mrs Thatcher was forced to quit , having been stabbed in the back by her "faithful" colleagues. The main reason? A series of disputes about Britain's policy towards "Europe" (which, for many Brits, starts at Calais). Angie: you have been warned. Because, as fate would have it, 22 November was also the day on which Angela Merkel was first sworn in as Germany's chancellor in 2005.

Absolute majority - with an absolute minority of the votes

Then there was the election evening itself. British election results typically start coming in at around 23.00 and the result isn't known until the early hours of the next morning. German elections are often over (bar the political waffle) at 18.00 when the first forecast comes in. Not this time - wow, a real thriller!

For a brief moment, it even looked as though the election was going to produce a very British result, with an absolute majority for a party that had won an absolute minority of the votes. The British system specializes in such outcomes. (We don't have any of this proportional representation stuff or complications such as a five per cent hurdle.)

Ironically, though, the last British general election, in 2010, produced a very un-British result - a "hung" parliament in which no party had a majority, although the Conservatives, like Merkel, came close. This forced the Brits to "go continental" and start all those long-winded exploratory talks with a view to forming a coalition government. (British humour: after a three-horse race, the parties tried to form a stable coalition.)

Even here, the recent German elections simply copied Britain. Almost nobody expected the left-of-centre, environmentally-conscious Liberal Democrats to enter a coalition with David Cameron's right-of-centre Conservative Party. But, power mad as they (understandably) were, that's exactly what the Lib-Dems did. The result? The Lib Dems mightily annoyed many of their voters and were severely punished in subsequent local and by-elections.

AfD - sorry, we've had that already

So don't rule out a Conservative-Green coalition in Germany. But Greens, beware! You may have promoted a "veggie day" in your election campaign, but Angie is likely to gobble you up along with her meat.

Then there was the appearance of the anti-euro Alternative for Germany. Sorry, but we Brits have beaten you to that little game, too. In the 2010 election, the anti-EU party UKIP (UK Independence Party) won 3.1 per cent of the vote. By May this year, that had risen to a whopping 23 per cent in the local elections in the constituencies where UKIP put up candidates. Expect more of the same in both countries in next year's elections to the European Parliament.

Finally, even the soporific campaign fought by Germany's leader - and someone really should put Merkel's speeches onto CDs and sell them to parents who want their children to sleep on long car journeys - had very British overtones. It reminded me of the referendum (a very rare event in Britain) in 1975 when the country was asked whether it wanted to stay in the European Economic Community (EEC), as the EU was known at the time.

"Because I used to love her..."

The final result was two-to-one in favour of Britain staying in but a leading Conservative politician, William Whitelaw, was very critical of Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson's campaign, accusing him of going "round and round the country, stirring up apathy".

Angie clearly learned a lot from Britain and from Wilson specifically. Hell, even her nickname - clearly visible on all those election placards - comes from a Rolling Stones song. And Mick Jagger and his mates are quintessentially British.

"Because I used to love her, but it's all over now", Sir Mick sang back in 1964, in the first Stones song that went to number one. Margaret Thatcher had that painful experience in 1990 when the knives finally came out. Angela Merkel will do well to avoid the same fate over the next four years.

Zum Autor

Ian McMaster ist Chefredakteur von "Business Spotlight", des alle zwei Monate erscheinenden Magazins für Wirtschaftsenglisch. Er ist Brite, lebt seit 1989 in München, ist ausgebildeter Lehrer für Wirtschaftsenglisch und Co-Autor des Buches "Effective International Business Communication" (Collins).Sprachmagazin "Business Spotlight"