Hartz IV
 
This month's photo of political/topical interest: a defaced political ad seen outside my building a fortnight back, during the continuing election campaign. (There's enough here for a full written article, which may or may not materialise.)

The person in the photograph is the local candidate of the Social Democrats, Germany's centre-left party, which has been polling at around 25% most of this year. (Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, by comparison, are currently in the high thirties.) The party's official slogan in the top right, 'Zeit for meh Gerechtigkeit', translates as 'Time for more fairness'.

Friedrichshain, the part of Berlin in which I'm currently living, is among the city's poorest, least gentrified districts; a couple of buildings away, more disturbing pieces of graffiti urge local residents to stop voting for established parties—and oppose the presence of Arabs and Muslims—because 'pensioners are on the streets'.

The words stuck in protest over this candidate's eye sockets are Hartz IV, the name of a still-controversial programme of benefit cuts introduced under the SPD governments of Gerhard Schröder from 1998 to 2005 and upheld by Merkel's subsequent administrations. Schröder, in many ways the German analogue of Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, is remembered for having moved his party to the right, and like the British Labour Party in 2015, the Social Democrats seem unable to throw off that spectre.

'Britain can be better', Ed Miliband's manifesto declared; 'Time for more fairness', Martin Schulz's party declares now. It's hard to know which slogan is vaguer or more noncommittal. Both slogans sound like focus groups spend hours on them, which is perhaps why the defacement is so effective. If you're wondering why the 'z' is on the right hand side, 'Hart' is the German word for callous, harsh or cruel—sometimes also translated as austere.

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