25 OCTOBER 1963, Page 5

A Question of Style



ONE of the phrases rubbed smooth with use in the months of interminable chat about changing Chancellors is the one about Chancellor Erhard bringing a new 'style' to political life in Germany. It is used to imply that a Strauss would be sacked at once from now on, and not only after an humiliating wrangle, and that men who get into that sort of muddle will not be given office. Easier said than done, for the gift of recognising trouble-proneness is a rare one.

Still, two clouds that have caused a good deal of the murk in Bonn's atmosphere will probably now clear away slowly. That dubious Tom Fiddler's ground between accepting favours from outsiders and the legitimate enjoyment of the sweets of office will be much narrowed. In nine years in Bonn I have never heard even a rumour of Professor Erhard accepting presents of motor- cars or the like. Neither does he attend fast parties where one of the guests may afterwards remind the Herr Minister of an indiscretion and thus gain an advantage for himself without any- thing actually being said except in joke on either side. And he does not like people who do these things, nor collect them about him. Lobbyists and what the Germans called 'interesteds' will have a harder time from now on and members of committees will always have to pay for their wives' mink shawls out of their salaries.

The other thing is that the backstairs in- triguing, loosely connected with the first cloud, that gave Bonn such an air of provincial demi- monde and which depended for its nourishment on the old Chancellor's secretive methods of handling men and affairs and on his sometimes questionable choices of men, will cease. This may remove a phenomenon from public life which was bad for parliament, government and the press alike: the leaking of stories to the press about things which ought to have been cleared up in the open, but were not. The latest, and perhaps worst, example of this was in last week's issue of the sensational illustrated weekly Stern, next-door neighbour of Der Spiegel in Hamburg and owned by the serious weekly Die Zeit. An ex-official of the ,equivalent of Ml 5 is prepared to swear to really shocking misuses of security methods and material, including the listening to lovers' talk taken from telephones by tape as an evening's entertainment for secretaries and the opening of the letters of well-known people. Not for the first time the source alleges that he found it impossible to get anything done by nor- mal means inside the organisation.

Another example is the recent leak to a foreign paper of lobbying methods amounting to im- proper pressure inside a governmental committee. Naturally, the employment of junior security officials who were once members of the Gestapo and the business ethics of parliamentarians are not the immediate business of a head of govern- ment. But the selection of Ministers and senior civil servants who see nothing odd in the paradox of Nazis manning an 'Office for the Protection' of a democratic constitution is the business of the Chancellor. Without any dramatic clean-ups being made, a new atmosphere of stuffy probity could work wonders. • These problems are more difficult to control in Germany than in older bodies politic.. The vulnerability of public men here is usually simplified into the suspicion of a Nazi past. But it.is, more complex than that. There arc many thousands of refugees from East Germany, especially among the young, who are by no means untainted by their Communist schooling, which has given them a deep cynicism. There are. also many thousands of respectable citizens who owe their survival to a quick hand with somebody else's potatoes in 1945 on the trek from Eastern Europe. In spite of the distance of time and the general amnesty, they hide such things even from themselves; but money and the fear of losing position and possessions means far more to people who have lived through star- vation than the fat burghers of small towns can imagine. They are easier to influence and easier to frighten than other men, and they make up a quarter of Federal Germany's population—most of them valuable and decent citizens, needless to say. Still, with every allowance made, there is room for improvement both in the matter of corruption and strictness about official secrets.

Another political factor that needs to grow out of its past in Bonn is the Opposition, but the new Chancellor will not be able to do much about that, though the Federal President expressed a pious hope of better future -relations. At the formal retirement of the old Chancellor and the swearing-in of the new one, what Adenauer called the 'prophylactic opposition' gave an ex- hibition of small-minded sourness that was de- pressing. Adenauer has done much for his countrymen, and to sit reading a mass-circulation tabloid during the old man's farewell speech does not show much respect for the House or for democracy and is no proof, either, of socialist principles. A breach of the habit of personal hostility between Government and Opposition by giving Adenauer a hearty send-off would have been a gesture proving maturity and generosity as well as good manners. Willy Brandt had not found it possible to arrange the opening of Berlin's new concert hall on some other day; the SPD chairman was indisposed, and the party ideologist, Wehner, could not bring himself to shake hands with his old enemy. Statesmanlike is not the word for the Social Democrats; their 'style' renews doubt about their ability to rule.