josh rosner

Posts Tagged ‘Angela Merkel’


In Australian Politics, German Politics on April 19, 2011 at 12:36 am

In her speech to the 1980 Conservative Party Conference, Margaret Thatcher spoke words that have come to define her 12 year premiership of Great Britain. Referring to her intent to stay the course with respect to her economic reforms, Thatcher said, “To those waiting with bated breath for that favourite media catchphrase, the ‘U-turn’, I have only one thing to say: ‘You turn if you want to. The lady’s not for turning.’” And so was born the ‘Iron Lady’, a moniker she reportedly didn’t dislike.

Inevitably women who become head of a government are compared to Thatcher. It is usually in terms of whether they apply more hairspray and make-up than Silvio Berlusconi or whether their personality range extends from dry to super-dry. Or to frame it as the media does, whether they are more Barbie Doll or Iron Lady?

Two of the most prominent female heads of western democratic governments who have been subjected to the ‘Thatcher comparison’ in the media are Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel – arguably the world’s most powerful woman right now – and our own Julia Gillard.

Merkel leads a country of 81 million people who are grappling with a lacklustre economy, high unemployment, the social and economic consequences of its immigration program, what it means to be a multicultural society, and now, nuclear power. Gillard leads a nation of 21 million and is not without a long list of her own challenges that need addressing this term if Labor is to have any hope of re-election.

Gillard has proven herself quite adept at the ‘U-turn’ since becoming prime minister. In fact, the ‘U-turn’ was evident even before she obtained the top job. The month before knifing Rudd she said during an interview when asked if she wanted to be prime minister, “I’m passionate about what I’m doing now, being deputy PM is the bee’s knees, I haven’t even caught a whiff of the PM’s job.”

Should we applaud Gillard’s ability to change her mind and steer a different course as a mark of strength, and recognise it as a finely tuned political radar, or should we see her more as a dithering dolt incapable of decision-making? There seems little evidence to support the former assertion at this stage of her leadership.

Merkel – frequently compared to Thatcher because they were both chemists by training before entering politics – has shown her own skill at the ‘U-turn’. Following Japan’s nuclear troubles, Merkel was quick to shut down seven nuclear reactors in Germany. Most Germans I have spoken to agree it was the right decision to make. What they can’t agree on was her motives. With support for her Christian Democratic party heading south nationally, with similar prospects across Germany’s 16 Länder, it’s hard not to see Merkel’s ‘turning’ as more about her own political survival than concern for the potential dangers of nuclear power.

Sound familiar?

Julia Gillard was deputy Labor leader when Kevin Rudd announced Australia faced ‘the greatest moral, economic and social challenge of our time’ that was, he assured us, climate change. She was deputy prime minister when Rudd steered the nation the wrong way down a one-way street and we all looked on in horror as he engaged in a seemingly never-ending series of manoeuvres which failed to get Australia once again travelling in the right direction. Finally, his colleagues took away his driver’s license and Gillard promised to move us forward.

Australians initially supported Gillard. Her ‘moving forward’ plan sounded like a lot less effort than Abbott’s plan, which required us to ‘stand up’ before we had even begun to take ‘real action’. Gillard promised us her own plan to tackle climate change wouldn’t involve a carbon tax. But that was before the election. After she’d secured a flimsy deal with two hillbillies that kept her in power, what did she do? The lady was quick for turning.

The government’s climate change adviser, Professor Ross Garnaut, has recommended a price on carbon of between $20 and $30 per tonne. That can only mean one thing.

I predict the pointy-headed boffins in the Department of Finance are right now putting the final touches on an expensive government advertising blitz to explain the importance of a carbon tax. But what was it Rudd said during the 2007 election campaign?  “I believe this is a sick cancer within our system, a cancer on democracy. I can guarantee we will have a process in place run by the auditor general which will determine what is appropriate for use in Government-funded, tax-payer funded television advertising campaigns.” Again, Gillard was Rudd’s deputy at the time. Part of the inner circle. She does seem to have become quite effective at ‘turning’.

My point is, with Australia and the world lurching from one major catastrophe to another, from the bloody fight for democracy in Arab states to devastating natural floods, earthquakes and tsunamis, the world could do a lot worse than the gentle hands of strong women at the wheel.

Instead of iron ladies, we have the sinking soufflés that are Angela Merkel and Julia Gillard.