May 23, 2005


Germany and France are struggling with a new world: Britain is coping better with the transition to a US and Asian-led economy (Martin Kettle, May 24, 2005, The Guardian)

To spend a few days in Germany is not just to visit another country but, increasingly for a Briton, to visit a different kind of country. In Berlin last week, what stood out was how attractively stable modern Germany still is. Here were the material prosperity, the reliable services and the well-maintained environment that most people want from life. Lack of excitement - and 5 million people out of work - almost seems a small price to pay for such a good common life, especially after the kind of 20th century Germany had.

The contrast with Britain is unmissable. Here, the reality of economic dynamism is all around us, sometimes for good, as in our high levels of employment, but also sometimes for ill, as in our high levels of stress and insecurity. Our private affluence is high, our public goods and spaces are improving, but they do not match those of Germany. Our public life is far less restrained than theirs. If Tony Blair wants to find that elusive culture of respect, all he needs to do is go to Berlin.

For a long time many on the progressive left looked to Germany as the kind of country that they wished Britain could become - industrious, civilised and moderate. To its regulars, the British-German Königswinter conference, which I attended last week, was a place where senior British public figures came to learn from the achievements of their German counterparts - to learn how a modern social democratic party worked, how a dynamic economy could be married to a generous welfare state, and how a strong national identity could meld seamlessly with the European project.

Now, the boot is on the other foot. Now it is the Germans who arrive at Königswinter aware that they have not got it as right as they once assumed. In the old days it was the Germans who had the economic miracle and who wore the badge of modernity. Now, in a more haphazard way, it is the British. Germans talk anxiously about being in denial about the price they are increasingly paying for their apparently stable good society.

Ever and always the big question in life, and many little ones, come down to how you balance freedom vs. security. Any half observant person could have told you that seeking the level of security the Left demanded in Germany would make it too unfree to survive in the long run.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 23, 2005 7:06 PM
Comments for this post are closed.