Successor to Walter-Borjans: New SPD leader: Everything boils down to Lars Klingbeil

Berlin The personnel carousel turns in the SPD. The party is not only looking for federal ministers, it also needs a new co-party leader after the withdrawal of Norbert Walter-Borjans.

While the occupation of the ministries is still unclear or a state secret is being made out of it, a solution is already emerging for the party leadership: In the SPD it is firmly expected that Secretary General Lars Klingbeil will shortly declare his candidacy for the party chairmanship.

“He is the logical candidate,” said a top comrade to the Handelsblatt. “Anyone other than Lars Klingbeil as party leader would surprise me,” another. Officially, it is said from the party that a decision has not been made. The election of the new party leadership is due at the party congress in December. Walter-Borjans announced last Friday that he did not want to run again as party leader.

It is still completely open which woman could lead the SPD alongside Klingbeil. In 2019, the party installed a dual leadership for the first time. In addition to Walter-Borjans, Saskia Esken is currently party leader, both of whom started as a team in 2019. Esken could remain party leader, but she is also said to have ambitions for a ministerial office.

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Should Esken actually switch to the federal cabinet, they would have to give up the party chairmanship. A few days ago, parliamentary group leader Rolf Mützenich spoke out in favor of continuing to separate the party chairmanship and ministerial office.

An opinion that is shared by many in the SPD, for example by the financial politician Cansel Kiziltepe: “I think it is expedient if the party leadership is separated from the government and can ensure with a little distance that social democratic politics are made.”

The left wing of the party would lose influence

In the event of a change from Esken to the cabinet, the Prime Minister of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Manuela Schwesig, is considered to be a possible successor. Should Schwesig actually be interested, her party leadership would hardly be in dispute. Schwesig had achieved a brilliant victory with 40 percent in the state elections at the end of September.

With Schwesig and Klingbeil at the top, the left wing of the party would lose a lot of influence at the top. Klingbeil is a member of the business-friendly Seeheimer Kreis, and Schwesig is also more pragmatic.

With Olaf Scholz, an extremely pragmatic politician would also be Federal Chancellor. Many in the SPD fear that under him the social profile of the party, which has just become more visible again, could be lost again because everything will be subordinated to government action.

The question is therefore how the left wing of the SPD can be made happy. The new party leadership should “be able to bring together the different currents in the SPD and have a cooperative, but also critical relationship with government action,” demands Cansel Kiziltepe, member of the board of the SPD forum Democratic Left 21.

In the SPD there is speculation that party vice Kevin Kühnert could follow Klingbeil as general secretary. The two would harmonize, they call each other friends. And regardless of that, many in the party can easily imagine the eloquent former Juso boss at the post.

The party left could also knock out a ministerial post for Michael Miersch, should Klingbeil become party leader. Miersch is the head of the left wing in the SPD parliamentary group. He is also considered the first candidate for the parliamentary group chairmanship, should Mützenich switch to the cabinet.

While Klingbeil, as party leader, would create a problem with the left wing of the party, another would be solved: that of the surplus of men from Lower Saxony. With Miersch, Minister of Labor Hubertus Heil and Klingbeil, three middle-aged men with cabinet ambitions come from Lower Saxony. Klingbeil was also traded as a possible defense minister until Walter-Borjans withdrew. Klingbeil’s father was a soldier and one of the largest Bundeswehr locations is in his constituency.

Klingbeil could count on widespread approval

The SPD cannot accommodate three men from Lower Saxony in the federal cabinet. The regional proportion, according to the logic of which not too many ministers from a regional association may belong to the cabinet, speaks against this. Scholz also said that he wanted to fill the SPD ministerial posts equally with men and women. This limits Klingbeil’s chances of finding a ministerial post. As party leader, however, Klingbeil would have considerable influence even without a seat at the cabinet table, for example he would sit on every coalition committee.

In the event of a candidacy for the party chairmanship, Klingbeil could expect broad approval according to the party’s opinion. However, during his time as Secretary General there was also criticism of his work. Klingbeil had to tackle the political opponent tougher, it was criticized internally. The eternal search for a new party leadership in 2019 was also blamed on him. Even today, comrades roll their eyes in annoyance when they think back to the 23 regional conferences at which the candidates had to introduce themselves.

But after the successful general election, all of this is a thing of the past. As the organizer of the successful election campaign, Klingbeil can request a promotion. In addition, the 43-year-old stands for the generation change that Walter-Borjans wanted to initiate with his retirement.

As general secretary, Klingbeil has already shown that he can hold the party together in difficult times. Since he took over the job at the end of 2017 at the suggestion of the then SPD leader Martin Schulz, Klingbeil has served a total of eight party leaders. He also stayed at the post when, after Schulz, Andrea Nahles and later Esken and Walter-Borjans led the party.

Although Klingbeil is a member of the business-friendly wing, he has good connections to the left wing of the party and, as a former digital politician, to younger SPD politicians, but also to the ancestors: Ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is Klingbeil’s sponsor.

Outstanding first vote result in the constituency

Schröder made repeated campaign appearances with Klingbeil in his home constituency. In 2017 Klingbeil looted the constituency of the CDU, in the Bundestag election this year he defended it with 47 percent of the vote, an outstanding first vote result. This small success also speaks for Klingbeil as party leader, it is said internally. Klingbeil is also popular with voters.

In the 2019 membership decision, Klingbeil did not stand for the party chairmanship. Although he was already interested in the job back then, he could not find the right woman to run for a joint candidacy in time.

As it was two years ago, the SPD is currently looking for a new party leadership, but the situation today is completely different than it was then. There were fears that the new party leadership might burst the grand coalition. “This time nobody panics,” says one of the top comrades. “We’re going to take it easy.” The withdrawal of Walter-Borjans offers the SPD the luxury of being able to distribute even more top positions. The profiteer is likely to be Klingbeil.

More: Comment: The new beginning in terms of personnel at the top of the SPD must be followed by a renewal of the content

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