The Guardian view on the German election results: negotiating a new era | Editorial

An SPD-led coalition would be in the country’s best interests, but after a knife-edge result, there is no guarantee one will emerge

Less than two years ago, the German Social Democratic party stood at 11% in the polls and appeared to be a moribund political force. Sunday’s knife-edge federal election, in which the SPD narrowly topped the polls with 26% of the vote, represents therefore one of the more improbable political comebacks of recent times. It is also a personal vindication for Olaf Scholz, the party’s candidate for chancellor. As the SPD bumped along in a poor third place, behind the Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) and the Greens, Mr Scholz’s conviction that he could still win the top job was treated as fantasy politics from the representative of a party on the road to nowhere. But as his rivals became increasingly accident-prone during a rollercoaster campaign, Mr Scholz’s suggestion that he represented the safest pair of hands to take Germany beyond the Merkel era became ever more plausible.

Whether he will get the chance to do so is still up in the air, and is likely to remain so for some time. The election has delivered a fragmentary political landscape with a near-perfect balance of forces between left and right. Chastened after the worst performance in its history, the CDU nevertheless finished only two percentage points behind the SPD. And while the Greens scored their best-ever result in finishing third, their influence in forthcoming coalition negotiations is almost matched by the economically liberal FDP, which opposes tax rises and is committed to restoring debt restrictions loosened during the pandemic. Preliminary negotiations between these two “kingmakers” will help determine whether the future coalition tilts left or right. Right now, the only certainty is that, for the first time since the 1950s, Germany will be governed by a three-party coalition.

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As Boris Johnson loses control, Keir Starmer is starting to get a grip | Polly Toynbee

It’s a long way back – but the Labour conference is revealing a revitalised party ready to take on this government of incapables

As Harold Macmillan’s notorious “events” rain down on Boris Johnson’s incapable government, it will become clear that he’s to blame. This chaos carries the hallmark of his character, out of control and unprepared.

At a local petrol station with a long tailback, someone has scrawled: “If you voted Brexit, go to the back of the queue!” A sign outside a pub in Pembrokeshire I saw read, “Staff wanted, dead or alive”: the next day they’d added “and manager”. Labour’s message that the Tories have lost control, delivered at its annual party conference, resonates around the country.

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When panic is fuelled by a shortage of leadership | Letters

Readers give their verdict on the government’s handling of the crises affecting the fuel, energy and haulage industries

Your analysis of the causes of the supply chain crisis is helpful from a factual perspective, but misses the point (Is Brexit or Covid to blame for Britain’s supply chain crisis?, 24 September). The cause matters not; both have happened on this government’s watch and therefore it is their role to minimise the impact of both, especially on those least able to cope with the consequences. So let’s conflate the two into Coxit, as in “Boris Coxit up”.
Philip Oliver
Farnham, Surrey

• Shortage of petrol delivery drivers. Shortage of GPs. Shortage of turkeys for Christmas. Quite obviously it is the government’s fault, but what’s the root cause? The solutions are quite simple. Pay HGV drivers a better wage and give them better working conditions. Train and employ more GPs to give them more time with each patient. That means us paying more for goods and services. It means us paying more in taxes. But that is the last thing any supermarket or any government wants to tell us. So whose fault is it?
John Sommer
Bristol

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Care homes are desperately short of staff – why no emergency UK visas for them? | Simon Jenkins

As the government hastily arranges visas for truck drivers, its lack of regard for the care sector crisis is clear

Despite all the panic in government and at the petrol station forecourt, there is another urgent question: what about the care homes? The government is hastily attempting to give three-month visas to 5,000 foreign truck drivers to “save Christmas”. It is also allowing 5,000 visas for farm workers to gather in the winter harvest. But, in the face of widespread personnel shortages, the care home sector is to get no relief at all.

There are already 100,000 staff vacancies in the care home sector, yet all the health ministry can say is that there will “always be enough staff with the right skills to deliver high quality care”. This is state-sponsored employment chaos.

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The UK’s petrol crisis is just a taste of a more jittery, uncertain future | Gaby Hinsliff

The shortage of tanker drivers has sparked a run on the pumps – and the only question now is what we’ll run out of next

On Saturday, a friend who spends most weekends trekking halfway across the country to check up on her increasingly frail parents spent an anxious morning scouring empty garages for petrol. She can’t have been alone.

The strains of a weekend’s stockpiling are starting to show: some teachers can’t fill up to get to school, nurses are reduced to cadging lifts to hospital, and care workers who rely on their cars to reach vulnerable people in isolated areas are struggling. And then there are the purely human dilemmas. Imagine being heavily pregnant, bag all packed for the labour ward, and the fuel light is flashing.

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Europe is losing its moral compass – how will it find its way without Merkel? | Marion Van Renterghem

The pragmatic chancellor’s departure will be a turning point not only for Germany but also the EU

During a farewell tour of European heads of state and government this summer, Angela Merkel went to see the Queen. The few filmed minutes of her arrival in Windsor are irresistible. On one side, the Queen in a green floral dress, her smile controlled by centuries of code and tradition. On the other, a shy-seeming woman in trousers and purple jacket, nodding her head too many times, trying to observe the correct rituals for greeting a monarch. Elizabeth and Angela: two opposite worlds, two entirely different functions, and yet, similarities. Those boring speeches no one dares to make any more. That style, that calm, that stability and that way of embodying their countries.

Merkel now embodies more than Germany; she embodies Europe. She’s a pop icon, who has entered our consciousness like a song. Mugs, T-shirts and even lemon squeezers are sold in her image. But her rise and longevity remain a mystery. How could this woman, so strangely indifferent to the trappings of power, take over a party held for half a century by conservative males, and then be elected four times in a row to lead one of the world’s great powers? How did she become such a role model that a schoolboy once asked her in all innocence: “Can a boy also become chancellor?”

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Proportional representation would spell disaster for Labour. Party members should reject it | Richard Johnson

PR would make Labour majorities all but impossible, yet give the Lib Dems a permanent foothold on power

  • Richard Johnson is a lecturer in politics at Queen Mary University of London

At Labour’s annual conference this week, a motion is to be put forward calling for the party to back proportional representation (PR) for the election of MPs to the House of Commons.

There are many philosophical arguments that can be made against PR. PR makes coalition governments the norm rather than the exception. It reduces the ability of a party to deliver on its manifesto promises. It gives disproportionate weight to small parties. It encourages a more transactional form of politics, based on post-election horse-trading. It produces a more fragmented, inward-looking form of politics, whereby parties no longer need to seek broad-based electoral support in order to achieve power.

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The message from Israel is clear: Covid booster shots should be standard | David O’Connor

A third dose of the vaccine provides significant protection, but that should not mean those who are unvaccinated go without

  • David O’Connor is professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of Wisconsin

In the summer, Israel began offering third doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to the over-60s. It was the first country to start administering “booster shots”, to people vaccinated at least five months previously. The prime minister, Naftali Bennett, announced the decision after a study by Leumit Health Services, an Israeli healthcare provider, showed that those over the age of 60 who had been vaccinated more than five months previously were three times more likely to be infected than those vaccinated more recently. As of 29 August, Israel began offering a third dose to everyone aged 12 and older, who had waited this period of time. The question for other countries is now whether to follow Israel’s lead.

The first data evaluating the early impact of the third dose programme were published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). It showed that two weeks after more than 1.1 million over-60s had received their third dose, they were 11.3 times less likely to become infected with the exceptionally contagious Delta variant that currently predominates in Israel and across the world.

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The trillions in our pension pots could be key to tackling the climate crisis | Richard Curtis

Ahead of Cop26, the UK could take the lead in diverting investments away from carbon emitters

  • Richard Curtis is a filmmaker and activist

Someone said something so simple yet so shocking to me recently: that weather used to be the last thing on the news, now it’s the first. Fire, floods, drought; it’s impossible to ignore. Well, I can’t help but feel that we should treat our pensions the same. They used to be the last thing on our minds – the worst possible thing to bring up at a party – but in order to tackle the climate crisis, they must now be the first.

With delegates from across the globe descending upon Glasgow in November for Cop26 – the most important climate negotiations for a generation – a new movement now has the power to deliver on the world’s most urgent agenda.

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