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Why Merkel Needs Cameron: Their Alliance Of Convenience

Last Updated: Friday, April 12th, 2013

Margaret Thatcher is dead, yet the House of Commons is more Thatcherite than it has ever been.  She inspired many members of the exceptionally gifted 2010 Tory intake to go into politics.

Like her, these new MPs believe in the nation state – the belief which precipitated her downfall in 1990, by which time her own Cabinet had turned against her on the European issue. Thatcher was ditched by her own MPs because there were not enough Thatcherites among them to defend her.

The new batch of Tory MPs has not taken the trouble to get elected to the Commons in order to surrender its rights to the European Union. Parliamentary sovereignty is for them of over-riding importance. Veteran eurosceptics like Bill Cash have been joined by a host of knowledgeable and determined newcomers, including such figures as Dominic Raab and Jacob Rees-Mogg.

In order to remain Tory leader, David Cameron has to demonstrate to these backbenchers that he too is a defender of the nation state. Fortunately for him, such a policy is more feasible now than it was in 1990, when Thatcher made her brave but unavailing stand against European monetary union.

Monetary union duly happened, and as she warned, it has proved a disaster.  On Wednesday, Greece released unemployment figures which show the rate among 15-24 year-olds has risen to the scandalous level of 59.3 per cent.

In France, where the ineffectual Francois Hollande will soon have been in power for a year, unemployment has risen to 3.2 million, the highest since 1997, debt has gone above 90 per cent of GDP and the promise to reduce the deficit to three per cent this year has been abandoned.

The euro in its present form is unsustainable. Something has got to give. German taxpayers are terrified that they will be the ones who have to give: that in order to prop up the single currency, they will find themselves forced to subsidise almost everyone else.

No wonder Cameron is spending this Friday night at Schloss Meseberg, the country house north of Berlin where Chancellor Angela Merkel entertains favoured guests. As if to show how respectable this outing is, Cameron is taking his wife and children with him. That is rather an intimate but also innocent thing to do. He and Merkel are in the process of forming a coalition of the respectable. They have already joined forces to bring the EU budget under some sort of control.

Merkel faces elections in September. She has to convince frightened Germans that she will stand up for them, and will not allow them to be treated as disgracefully as Cypriot savers have just been treated.

I lived in Germany in the Nineties, when Chancellor Helmut Kohl forced the replacement of the German mark, proud symbol of post-war recovery, with the euro. This was not a popular thing for him to do: it was forced through by the German political class in defiance of the German public. Go into any German pub, and you would find ordinary people who knew it was madness to share a currency with the Italians, let alone with the Greeks.

Germany’s politicians were so determined to prove they were good Europeans that they conspired to ignore the wishes of their own people. For Kohl, a bully of genius who could not care less about economics, this made perfect sense: it gave him something important to push through after reunification, made him sound high-minded, and the opposition Social Democrats were quite incapable of opposing him, for they believed more whole-heartedly in the euro than his own Christian Democrats did.

Merkel, brought up in East Germany, never got implicated in Kohl’s West German system of power politics, and had the courage to overthrow him. But she and the rest of the German political class now find themselves in the alarming predicament of trying to make go of a new currency which faces dreadful problems, and for which there was never any democratic mandate.

A new party, Alternative for Germany, has just been founded, and is holding its first conference this weekend. It contains a large number of professors, and wants to bring back the German mark. In order for Merkel to prevent this new party from taking off, and perhaps denying her several percentage points in this September’s elections, she has to show that she too is a respectable eurosceptic, who will not give handouts to Mediterranean spendthrifts who should never have been allowed to join the euro in the first place.

For Merkel, it makes electoral sense to be seen working closely with Cameron, another respectable eurosceptic, and to distance herself from Hollande and his disreputable band of champagne socialists. The British aim of breaking up the Franco-German axis which has for so long dominated the European Union may at last be about to be realised.

By Andrew Gimson


HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

Iain Dale’s first Friday Diary for ConservativeHome: Cameron’s drinking stories this week about “us working class boys”
“My spy says he downed a pint of Guinness,  and spent most of the time being greased up to entertained by Tory MP Mark Pritchard. It was Pritchard who, during a leadership elections hustings at the 1922 Committee asked all the candidates about their drug-taking history, something leading Cameroons have never forgotten. Cameron was regaling Pritchard with stories from his CCO days when a visit from the Leaderene was greeted with total fear and terror. Bizarrely, they were also overheard talking about their favourite musicals. I have to say Mark Pritchard has never struck me as a Friend of Dorothy, but there you go! Oh, sorry, wrong musical. Apparently they were waxing lyrical about ‘Jersey Boys’. At least, I assume they were talking about the musical…” Read more: http://is.gd/pb5waN

Mark Fox: You can’t understand Thatcher without understanding her Christian faith
“In the two excellent speeches by David Cameron and Ed Milliband in Parliament it was not mentioned at all. In the extensive TV and radio coverage, and all the newspaper comment, barely a word about her faith – her upbringing as a Methodist and her adult commitment to Anglicanism. Yet her Anglicanism and earlier Methodist upbringing was an essential part of her formation as a person and as a politician. Hers was not a showy, worn-on-the-sleeve sort of faith, that we became wearily used to in some of those that succeeded her as Prime Minister but a steady, discreet, deeply felt and regularly practiced commitment.” Read more: http://is.gd/8nWfwX

Paul Goodman: Margaret Thatcher, Parliamentarian
“The only political event in town today is the Commons’ special session for tributes to Margaret Thatcher. So this is a good moment to reflect on Thatcher as a Parliamentarian….Jokes are secondary. If they come off, they’ve an imitable way of weakening your opponent, but they’re no substitute for the grinding, wearing power of argument. Thatcher was famously joke-blind (though very swift in coming back at opponents).  But above all, she was always making an argument.  One of her opponents as Leader of the Opposition, Michael Foot, was a great Parliamentarian – far greater than she was.  It didn’t matter when they came face to face.  She won, he lost, and she won because she won the argument.” Read more: http://is.gd/NDidh6

Owen Paterson: Lower taxes. Less red tape. Privatisation. Environmental progress. We must build on Thatcher’s legacy
“From the beginning, Margaret Thatcher knew exactly where she wanted to take this country and how.  Through unshakeable conviction and true bravery, she transformed our country by taking a series of enormously difficult decisions. As the daughter of a small businessman, she knew all about hard work and aspiration as the keys to a prosperous, confident society.  She understood that government could destroy a business by draining it of money through excessive taxation and stealing its time with unnecessary regulation. Working in business on Merseyside throughout her time in office, I was willing her on as she set about reinvigorating a sclerotic economy by deregulating business, cutting taxes, controlling inflation and taming the unions.” Read more: http://is.gd/hTNLjE

Lord Ashcroft: Farewell, Margaret Thatcher – a colossus of British politics and a dear friend
“To me, she was not just a colossus of British politics but also a fiercely loyal friend when I was under fire. Her death today, aged 87, has saddened me greatly…Even today, I sometimes try to imagine how Britain would be without Margaret’s resolve and leadership. She undoubtedly deserves to go down in history as Britain’s greatest peacetime Prime Minister. It took someone with astonishing willpower and principle to change the course of history, and Margaret Thatcher was that person. As Prime Minister, she offered people hope, opportunity and a chance to run their own lives.  I have lost an old friend while Britain will be a poorer place without her. One thing is certain: we will not see her like again soon.  And isn’t that a pity in the world today.” Read more: http://is.gd/oKzgbH

Graeme Archer: The Sacred and Profane Love Machine
You don’t have to live in Brighton, of course, to feel the power or the necessity of love, whether sacred or profane. But this year, the temporal conjunction between celebrations of both versions underlined the importance – the (it seems to be) essential unity – of both. In the same twenty-four hour period, we had Easter, when Resurrection gives us hope of everlasting renewal. We had Easter, when Man pushes time forward from Winter to Summer. And we had Easter, when the seaside returns to life, and the non-natives return, to satiate their earthly, earthy passions…a life well-lived surely requires both forms of what we’re perhaps too quick to classify as antithetical forms of human love, and Easter is the machine that lets us see that. It is sacred and profane; completely necessary, and good.” Read more: http://is.gd/PNJJQm

Cameron Penny: There’s been too much tribal rhetoric about welfare this week. As I know from my own experience “As a proud and hugely ambitious man, this is not an experience I like to dwell on. I am deeply grateful to live in a country where my fellow citizens pay their taxes so, at times of need, those of us who have fallen out of the workforce can work towards getting back into it. I’m also sure that many of those in that situation can emphasise with me the massive hit your self-confidence takes. I remember well one interview. in particular, where it seemed humiliation rather than a serious conversation about a position was the preoccupation of the interviewer – recruitment consultancy is an industry I can’t recommend! I am one of the lucky ones. I am painfully aware that today, nearly a million young people in the UK, aged 16 – 24, are unemployed.” Read more: http://is.gd/gjoBtj

By Paul Goodman

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