AWhen Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans were elected party chairmen of the SPD two years ago on St. Nicholas Day, there was great horror among the pragmatic social democrats. The last faint hope that it would not be so bad with a left-wing course in the SPD was linked to Lars Klingbeil, the man from Lower Saxony who had become general secretary of the party two years earlier. He was considered the last representative of an SPD squad for whom names such as Schröder, Müntefering, Steinmeier, Gabriel or Schulz stood. Now the 43-year-old Klingbeil is to become the new party leader – and that together with Saskia Esken, who is considered a left bogeyman for many inside and outside the SPD. The presidium of the SPD nominated both on Monday for the election, which is to take place on December 10th at the federal party conference in Berlin.
Klingbeil has earned this ascent, especially in the last few months. The fact that the SPD won the election also has to do with him. Olaf Scholz gave Scholz and a little Merkel in this election campaign, and Klingbeil made sure that nothing and no one intervened on the path to power that was entirely geared towards the top candidate.
He did this indecently; in the party he was seen as the honest broker between the currents. When Norbert Walter-Borjans wanted to give an unsettled interview with statements that might have been disruptive during the election campaign, Klingbeil made sure that there was no such interview. The fact that Walter-Borjans’ antipathy towards Scholz never got out was also thanks to Klingbeil, who was able to balance out differences in leadership.
Klingbeil has good prerequisites for this. He belongs to the pragmatically oriented Lower Saxony SPD, and it is no coincidence that he worked in Gerhard Schröder’s constituency office after graduating. At the same time, Klingbeil is young enough not to be considered a pure representative of a Schröder-Gabriel SPD. Although he is a member of the Seeheimer Kreis in the Bundestag, he belonged to the parliamentary left for a few years after he moved into the Bundestag in 2009. He grew up in the family of a Bundeswehr soldier, but did community service himself – he made his peace with the Bundeswehr and the need for military action after the attacks of September 11, 2001. In his youth he was an active Klingbeil in the Antifa. And he was a singer and guitarist in a rock band. In the Bundestag he was best known as a network politician. Klingbeil won his constituency in Lower Saxony, called Rotenburg I-Heidekreis, for the second time this year and with a strong result of 47.6 percent of the first votes.
What is Saskia Esken doing?
It should be exciting to see how Klingbeil leads the party together with Esken. The representatives of a pragmatic and less left-wing course in the SPD had hoped for a duo with Prime Minister Manuela Schwesig. But that would be a leadership in which the left wing of the SPD would hardly have seen itself represented. Unlike Walter-Borjans, who had not shown any ambitions for a further political career during the election campaign, the 60-year-old Social Democrat from Baden-Württemberg made it clear through her commitment, but also through her tactical restraint in contentious issues, that she would be at the forefront want.
To the displeasure of some comrades, she also announced early on that she wanted to run again as party leader. Internally, however, it was said in the SPD that Esken was aiming for a position in a Scholz cabinet, for example as digital or health minister. SPD parliamentary group leader Rolf Mützenich recently made it clear in an interview that only one of the two options was possible for Esken, i.e. that they should limit their ambitions to the party leadership.
The fact that Esken and Klingbeil are now running gives Olaf Scholz more leeway in the ministerial posts that are to be filled after the coalition negotiations have been successfully concluded. Because Klingbeil had also been acted as a possible minister, for example in the defense department. Both can count on a good, at least passable, result at the party congress. Because the wings of the SPD know that their candidate will be successful in the election if the other side also plays along.