SPD elects new party leadership: everyone on course

To analyse

Status: 11.12.2021 6:00 a.m.

As the ruling party, the SPD is now in a new role. Achieved everything? At the party congress, no revolution is to be expected from the once so rebellious party left – but the calm may only be temporary.

An analysis by Corinna Emundts, tagesschau.de

Somehow it has become almost irritatingly quiet about the well-known revolutionaries in the SPD, who were so good at betting against their own party. Be it the former Juso chairman Kevin Kühnert, who now wants to be elected Secretary General – or the party leftist Ralf Stegner, who is otherwise often present in the media. Sure, times are different – with Olaf Scholz, the SPD has appointed a Federal Chancellor for the first time in 16 years. But precisely this one is actually a representative of the grand coalition with Angela Merkel, which the party left recently fought hard.

Corinna Emundts

An SPD federal party congress is now imminent, which will take place immediately after the entry into a new kind of traffic light coalition – a point in time comparable to that in 2017 after the federal election and in the decision-making phase before the start of a new grand coalition. At that time, the Social Democrats in particular found it difficult to join the next Merkel government – for fear of further self-dwarfing.

From angry speech to government speech

The then Juso chairman Kühnert, traditionally the representative of the party left, was there for enfant terrible the SPD – and delivered what is probably his most famous speech to date in the direction of his own people, some of whom are embarrassed: “We have an interest in seeing what remains of this shop, damn it.” He called for a withdrawal to the opposition. And now?

Kühnert, meanwhile ex-Juso boss and newly elected member of the Bundestag, agrees in the conversation tagesschau.de extremely satisfied: “Now is a new departure”. You will notice that in the political style, in the communication, but also in the content. The government will also address the people more directly in the person of the Chancellor in order to enter into an exchange and to explain politics aggressively. Scholz has already started with the corona policy. Kühnert feels that this is something “pleasantly new”.

Party seems a bit “average” at the moment

He trusts Olaf Scholz “a mature democratic style of government.” That sounds a bit like a government spokesman – and not like the future general secretary of a party that wants to be more than the SPD in the traffic light coalition. And the new Juso chairwoman Jessica Rosenthal goes into raptures when it comes to a new General Secretary Kühnert – he has had “a massive share in the success of the SPD” in recent years. Everyone is somehow praising everyone right now, the SPD has “averaged itself”.

Does the revolutionary spirit get lost on the way up? That is probably the case with some, says the party leftist Stegner ARD morning magazine, some even forget their Juso past. And addressed to Kühnert the claim – especially the SPD party left: “The Secretary General is not the government spokesman, but the one who ensures that the profile of social democracy is raised”.

New balancing act for political talent Kühnert?

The party left are also satisfied with the current coalition agreement – no comparison to the 2018 coalition agreement negotiated by the SPD with the last Merkel government. But Scholz has pushed through their projects of a minimum wage of 12 euros and the overcoming of the Hartz IV system towards a citizen’s insurance but also a large housing construction program.

But it will still be a balancing act for Kühnert in the future: not to damage the new SPD Chancellor too much, on the other hand not to be too loving to deal with the rulers. After all, social democracy has only just recently regained its self-confidence, after almost 20 years of self-tearing – ironically also by Scholz, whom it did not even elect as chairman in 2019.

Party must “stay hungry”

But Kühnert wouldn’t be Kühnert if he didn’t already have an idea. At the small SPD party congress last weekend, which approved the coalition agreement, Kühnert already hinted at his course: The party must “stay hungry,” he warned there; one must also “be able to agree and enforce things that have not yet been laid out in a coalition agreement”.

For this Saturday, the party executive committee has already received almost 550 substantive proposals for future SPD policy, but very few are considered controversial in advance. And if there will be debates, it will be less about old social democratic left-right skirmishes, but about the right line of corona measures.

The 43-year-old SPD party leader-designate Klingbeil knows many groups in the party: He was a Schröder employee, deputy Juso chairman – later he became a member of the Bundestag and there that of the conservative SPD “Seeheimer”, who spoke out in favor of Scholz as candidate for chancellor had.

Image: dpa

Unusually harmonious again?

It should be an unusually harmonious party congress – even though the party is re-electing its staff: This is because the roles in the party, which have been carefully divided between leftists, pragmatists and the “Seeheimers” since the end of 2019, have almost only been swapped. The co-party leader Norbert Walter-Borjans, who has only been in office for two years, is withdrawing in favor of the younger generation, the election of the previous Secretary General Lars Klingbeil is considered certain.

Saskia Esken, the previous co-party leader located at the left of the party, is running again – and can hope for great approval, together with Walter-Borjans, a large part of the pacification of the party is ascribed to her. She managed to strike a balance between a strong party vice-politician and left-wing politician Kühnert and the chancellor candidate Scholz, who was wanted by the conservative “Seeheimer” group – without the SPD yelling audibly at any point.

But the 43-year-old Klingbeil should also expect a good result. He stands for an internally relentless course of self-renewal of the party, which he co-instigated immediately after his election in December 2017: “Learn from mistakes” is his motto – during his tenure, the SPD carried out a 108-page relentless error analysis of the election debacle surrounding the SPD – Chancellor candidate Martin Schulz, which could not have been more self-critical.

Klingbeil has consistently implemented one of the findings: “Thinking in terms of camps and wings, in parliamentary leftists and Seeheimers, in networkers, reformers and Stamokap is a view of yesterday,” it said. “Behind this is an understanding of politics that nobody outside of the party understands and that can no longer be communicated.”

A line that Klingbeil now has to fill with life as the head of a ruling party. He will not want to abolish the wings, but may prefer to moderate disputes internally. Especially if it could slip too much into self-destructive again. Because he knows pretty well how much work it was to get to the election of Chancellor.


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