Stimmenfang # 112 - SPD on casting tour: First tendencies, first surprises
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The SPD is on tour in Germany. 15 applicants want to take over the party presidency. To do this, you need to get in touch with the members at over 20 regional conferences. What did we learn from the first week of regional conferences? Which candidates convince in the unfamiliar format? And how big is the influence of these local castings?
For the new episode of Stimmenfang we talked with our colleague and SPD expert Christian Teevs. He explains why the SPD has even decided on this elaborate and long-term bidding process, which candidates have surprised him and why the race for the presidency is not decisive for the future of the Grand Coalition.
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[00:00:02] Matthias Kirsch Welcome to Stimmenfang, the political podcast of SPIEGEL ONLINE. I am Matthias Kirsch.
[00:00:10] Olaf Scholz (SPD) Yes, dear comrades, that's a great thing to run for the party presidency of the SPD, it's a great party that has done a lot.
[00:00:16] Nina Scheer (SPD) Yes, dear comrades, I am standing with Karl for the party presidency.
[00:00:21] Karl-Heinz Brunner (SPD) Why do I want to stand as chairman? Because I believe that ...
[00:00:24] Christina Kampmann (SPD) Moin Bremen, we are Christina and Michael and some say that sounds like a hit duo to them.
[00:00:30] Matthias Kirsch The SPD is on a big tour of Germany. Since last week, the candidates for the party presidency present themselves at regional conferences. And there were already the first surprises. For example, one of the candidate duo left the very first conference.
[00:00:45] But before we get into this topic, let's introduce in our new newscast, SPIEGEL Update. Now you can hear three times a day, which is important - in the morning at 6 o'clock, at noon at 12 o'clock and in the evening at 18 o'clock. On Saturdays there will be a review on Saturday and a preview of the topics of the new week on Sundays. You can now subscribe to SPIEGEL Update in your podcast app or listen directly to SPIEGEL.de. You can also hear our news on smart speakers like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. Just say: "Alexa, play the news from SPIEGEL" or "Okay Google, play the news from SPIEGEL".
[00:01:28] Christian Teevs I am here now in Nieder-Olm, in the Ludwig-Eckes-Festhalle. It is the sixth regional conference of 23 to be attended by candidates for the SPD chairmanship.
[00:01:41] Matthias Kirsch This is my colleague Christian Teevs. He writes for SPIEGEL about the SPD and has always sent me his impressions of regional conferences in the last few days via voice mail. But now Christian is back in Berlin and sitting in my studio. With him I talk today about his first findings, about the application process as such and about the candidates for the SPD presidency. Hello Christian.
[00:02:05] Christian Teevs Hello.
[00:02:06] Matthias Kirsch Last week the casting tour started, in Saarbrücken, and then it sounded like this:
[00:02:14] Moderator Regional Conference Klaus Tavor (SPD) Wow, what a picture! Fully occupied to the farthest corner and everywhere cameramen, photographers. No wonder, because the SPD celebrates its premiere today!
[00:02:27] Matthias Kirsch So, the picture which is described here - many people, full rooms, a lot of press. For me that sounded a bit as if the SPD was surprised by the crowd. What do you think about that?
[00:02:36] Christian Teevs Yes, on the one hand already. They had played it down a lot before and just said that they somehow count on 300 people in Saarbrücken. Then there were actually over 700. And of course the press rush was great. On the other hand, it was also clear to me personally that there will be a huge demand for it in the beginning, because it's just something new because people do not know what's coming. This will happen very quickly at 23 regional conferences and the interest will diminish there relatively quickly.
[00:03:06] Matthias Kirsch What did you take with you at these first regional conferences without reaching too much in advance? What were your first thoughts after this first week?
[00:03:15] Christian Teevs At first I was surprised that this method works. So this way of this casting show, in which at the beginning 17 participants - meanwhile 15 -, every single candidate actually has very little time. And I had the hard to imagine before how this should work, as it were whipped through in two and a half hours. That was actually in Saarbrücken, that there was a surprising amount of content-related controversy and you could already get an idea of the individual applicants, which may even be a bit different from the picture, what you usually have from the people.
[00:03:52] Matthias Kirsch How is that going to happen, this procedure? How would you describe that?
[00:03:58] Christian Teevs At the beginning, every team and one individual competitor, Karl Heinz Brunner, has five minutes to introduce themselves. Then there is a first round of questions with the moderator, a second round of questions with questions from the audience and at the end again final statements. And just the question and answer session from the audience, that is of course not predictable.
[00:04:16] Audience Questions What do you understand, damn it, under Social Democratic security policy? How do you, as a duo chairman, want to represent an all-German SPD if you divide by such statements? How do you actually want to make sure that you are not the same as Martin Schulz, who had a great program and in the end was beaten down by the party and the leadership?
[00:04:40] Christian Teevs And there are actually the biggest findings to draw from it.
[00:04:43] Matthias Kirsch That's a procedure now, that's very new for the SPD. What induced the SPD as a party to carry out this procedure now as it is currently taking place?
[00:04:53] Christian Teevs Actually, it was born out of necessity, the procedure, because the party changed its chairman or chairman for the umpteenth time in a relatively short time.
[00:05:05] Andrea Nahles (SPD) I just said goodbye to the SPD party executive, and I resigned.
[00:05:13] Christian Teevs And there is a leadership vacuum in the SPD. It was really unclear how to proceed. The only thing was clear: The party does not want to continue as before and decide in the back room, who should take over the successor of Nahles. And since the deputies, too, have somehow not been able or unwilling to take on this, it has been decided that this is a lengthy and somewhat complicated procedure, so that it is really up to the members to decide who the party is should lead in the future.
[00:05:44] Matthias Kirsch Let's stay briefly with the procedure. This then reminds me very much of what happened to the CDU last year. There was also a race for the party presidency. Did the SPD copy that from the CDU?
[00:05:56] Christian Teevs On the one hand, yes, on the other hand, the comrades would of course far from it, because they always say: This was pseudo-member participation in the CDU, because in the end so then yes decided the party congress , That's the SPD, I say so, only technically so, because the party convention should be politically bound to the membership survey. This means that 420,000 members are now being asked in October to vote on who should lead the party in the future and the party congress should also stick to it. That is why I said, on the one hand already, because the SPD has of course seen how it has revived the CDU last year, this procedure. That was so openly talked about who should lead the party in the future. What the SPD wants to do differently, is to say, the members say who in the future in the future ahead.
[00:06:48] Matthias Kirsch What you mentioned - at the CDU this feeling of revival, new energy, new strength in the party - is this really felt by the members of the SPD? You were at the regional conferences. If you've been around, what's your feeling with the SPD members?
[00:07:06] Christian Teevs Yeah, they are all a bit relieved, that it started quite well in Saarbrücken and of course we hope for that too. The commentary in the media is so far synonymous, I would say, quite friendly and there is of course a hope in there, where I'm still curious how long the holds. Because this procedure simply takes a very long time with a total of five months. And right now, of course, there is an initial euphoria.
[00:07:37] Matthias Kirsch In addition to the procedure, there is another innovation. The SPD wants to give a double top for the first time. Where does the idea come from? Does it have something to do with the fact that with the Greens a prominent double top is having great success, Robert Habeck and Annalena Baerbock. Does that have something to do with it?
[00:07:56] Christian Teevs Yes, of course, I would say that of course it was closely watched how well this works in the Greens. Another reason that Olaf Scholz, for example, says is why he thinks that's good with the dual tip, says: Now, with this leadership vacuum, the chance is to choose a double top. Before, it would always have been a vote of no confidence against the current or the current chairman. If you said, we have to choose someone to the side. And now is the chance, because at the moment there is no elected party leadership, as there is really a duo at the top.
[00:08:32] Matthias Kirsch So a little opportunism too. However, this search for the double top has also meant that there were some applicants who have not found a partner. A prominent example would be, for example, Lars Klingbeil, who said he would like to be there, the Secretary General of the SPD.
[00:08:49] Lars Klingbeil (SPD) Moin, this is Lars. I would like to share something. I myself have decided that I will not be among those who stand on stage and compete for the party presidency.
[00:08:57] Christian Teevs There were really strange scenes in the background, which you can hear because some - especially some SPD men - were desperately searching for a suitable partner. And Lars Klingbeil, for example, has said that he does not want to compete with anyone, but only with a woman, where he thinks it fits. And of course that's a bit hard, if you try to make such a candidature on the drawing board. Those are still people, where that has to fit together. And then he got involved in refusals and then said, then I just do not do it. And that's also a bit of a weakness of the process because maybe it will not make some other candidacies, because you had to get together to really be a team. Although there is a single applicant now, but no chances are calculated.
[00:09:52] Matthias Kirsch This is a good opportunity to look at some of the candidates now. We will probably not succeed in all, but we try hard. Let's start with the most famous duo. Klara Geywitz and Olaf Scholz, the Vice Chancellor and Minister of Finance.
[00:10:07] Olaf Scholz (SPD) We have to say that even at the beginning of this century it is possible to organize a solidary society. That exists with the SPD.
[00:10:15] Matthias Kirsch They were considered the big favorites before the process started now. How was it for the two so far?
[00:10:21] Christian Teevs As you can see, this procedure of regional conferences does not benefit them much. Olaf Scholz is actually someone who needs a bit of time to develop ideas, who likes to talk longer at such events, also mostly stood alone on the stage and answered questions from the audience a bit more verbosely. He also has very little time, like the other candidates too. And what's more, at almost every conference, there are always people who attack him personally and say:
[00:10:56] Audience Questions Olaf, how can anyone credibly explain to anyone that the one who ultimately brought us into function, into this valley of tears, into those lowlands of today's results, will in future be credible and social justice stands in the SPD? Since I have an explanation problem.
[00:11:16] Christian Teevs ... Eh, wait a minute . You are one of those whom we owe everything to this. Of course he does that cleverly. Since he is very confident, he does not put on the shoe.
[00:11:26] Olaf Scholz (SPD) It is part of my story that I do not feel meant. As Labor Minister, I ensured that, for example, the first industry minimum wages came. As a mayor in Hamburg, I ensured that social housing was built in thousands of categories, as nobody in Germany could spell the word.
[00:11:45] Christian Teevs Der said in Saarbrücken, I am a "truly truly social democrat", which has caused a bit of amusement, but he does that convincingly. Well, he can counter this criticism too. Nevertheless, there is of course this feeling with many in the party, well, where is actually the new beginning, if we now choose Olaf Scholz to the top.
[00:12:07] Matthias Kirsch If you talk about a new beginning ... Olaf Scholz, at the conferences, Quotes often Helmut Schmidt, he seems a bit old-fashioned. How much does his reputation help him in the end?
[00:12:21] Christian Teevs Yes, of course, this does not pay off in these regional conferences , but one must not forget, in the end the members decide. And Scholz is the best known.
[00:12:29] Matthias Kirsch Olaf Scholz and Klara Geywitz, who also belong to the supporters of the Grand Coalition, the government. That is one of the main lines of conflict in this candidate field - the Pro-GroKo and the Anit-GroKo factions. The applicant duo Karl Lauterbach and Nina Scheer, for example, are clearly against GroKo. Lauterbach, for example, says this:
[00:12:49] Karl Lauterbach (SPD) In my view, we should not lose credibility by remaining in the Grand Coalition. We've done that for 14 years now, 14 years and we can not always demand a better tax system, more fair distribution, more top tax rates, but then not implement those concepts. Therefore: I was a proponent of the Grand Coalition, Nina was clearly against it. She was right.
[00:13:18] Matthias Kirsch How important is the candidate for this positioning in this GroKo question, for or against?
[00:13:25] Christian Teevs On the one hand, this is a topic that somehow concerns everyone, which also concerns everyone in the party. On the other hand, I would not say that it really is the election-critical topic. For one thing, there is the mid-term review anyway, and the congress will eventually vote on whether or not to continue with the Grand Coalition. And on the other hand, there are so right GroKo fans apparently no more among the candidates. So, I mean, even Olaf Scholz says this Grand Coalition will be the last. And after the next federal election there should be no more grand coalition. And also the other candidates meander a bit around this topic, but rather GroKo critically. I believe that for the future of the coalition, rather other questions are crucial. What's next with the basic pension, is it now? Is there a climate protection law that deserves the name? So I do not think that in the end it really depends only on who is SPD chairman, but rather of what the coalition still gets.
[00:14:30] Matthias Kirsch We talked a bit more about two teams. Apart from the two, other teams, who have surprised you so far?
[00:14:40] Christian Teevs I found that actually all the teams had their moments at these regional conferences . Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken are a team, which, I think, has a chance. They were supported by the NRW state board. They have a relatively broad support in the Jusos, Kevin Kühnert has been very clear for the pronounced. So a team, which is not negligible.
[00:15:05] Matthias Kirsch Let's stay briefly with Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken. They are - you say, you should not measure it at the applause - but at least in Saarbrücken, for example, arrived very well, are also very self-confident. And they talk a lot about distribution, inequality. Let's listen to Saskia Esken, who said:
[00:15:25] Saskia Esken (SPD) Like no other, Norbert Walter-Borjans stands for tax justice, tax honesty and he asks a very important question, that is the question of distribution. And I think that he is like no other, as I said, suitable to develop together with you, together with me the credibility and the recognizability of the SPD.
[00:15:45] Matthias Kirsch Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken are using classic SPD themes, inequality and distribution. Why is that so good?
[00:15:53] Christian Teevs Well, I think there is a desire in the SPD right now to be back in clear, left-leaning positions. And of course Walter-Borjans, who has become known for having bought the tax CDs and act sharply against tax evaders there in North Rhine-Westphalia - for which he is simple and convincing. What is also remarkable about this statement from Saskia Esken is that they have already found each other very strongly as a team. They introduced each other at their presentation. The equal rights, they have a certain team spirit. And you could tell that people are paying attention.
[00:16:32] Matthias Kirsch Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken received unexpected support at the very first regional conference.
[00:16:40] Simone Lange (SPD) After a long, intense debate, we decided that we would let our power slip from our candidacy with all our supporters to the team of Norbert and Saskia.
[00:16:54] Matthias Kirsch This was Simone Lange, the mayor of Flensburg, who had started together with Alexander Ahrens - but has just not been there anymore, but has given the support. And you mentioned it earlier: The guys around Kevin Kühnert also gave their support to this team. Are the two of them already so much of the numbers and the supporters numbers so a little under the radar favorites?
[00:17:18] Christian Teevs It's incredibly difficult to judge because - as I said - in the end the members decide. If it were now an election at a party congress, I would sign it immediately. Then the NRW would have been behind, had the Jusos behind them - or a large part of the Jusos - would have a certain number of delegates. But here you just do not know exactly what this recommendation can really do. I would still say it is relatively open among those seven teams who will make it to the runoff. The only thing you can almost say is that there will not be a team in the first round, which is over 50%, and that we should probably see a runoff.
[00:17:57] Matthias Kirsch It is true, in this process, that in the first round, the members vote and if no team gets over 50 percent of the votes, then there will be a runoff vote from the top two teams of the first Round. We were now briefly with Kevin Kühnert, who has long considered whether he should compete.
[00:18:15] Kevin Kühnert (SPD) If you are a candidate, then you have to want that in the very last consequence, then you have to get involved in the idea of completing this post for at least two years. And you have to be sure to have enough support. That would not have been so easy, I believe. And for all these reasons, I have come to the conclusion that I do not want to be a candidate.
[00:18:36] Matthias Kirsch Christian, you also interviewed Kevin Kühnert after he announced that. How do you estimate his reasons for not running?
[00:18:44] Christian Teevs On the one hand, I can understand it, because - as he said - his candidacy would have led to a blatant polarization with Olaf Scholz. So that would have been the clear camps - GroKo and GroKo. On the other hand, he has hidden with it. So he took himself out of the race with it. Especially he, in the past one and a half, barely two years really the loudest voice in the party was against the grand coalition, now says: Well, well I do not have enough support and therefore I do not compete. With that he underestimates, I believe, the hope that many have put in him and, on the other hand, he of course also disappoints many people who have said: Man, Kevin, but you should have started.
[00:19:27] Matthias Kirsch Finally, let's take a look at the actual impact of these regional conferences. Our colleague Veit Medick, who also writes about the SPD at SPIEGEL, had the following assessment last week after the kick-off.
[00:19:42] Veit Medick At each of these regional conferences, between 500 and 1000 Social Democrats are likely. In the end, the party expects to reach between 10,000 and 15,000 people through these conferences. That's not so much, because the party has 430,000 members. In other words, in the end these regional conferences are good to present themselves and to try out. But how much influence they have on the final voting decision of the party members, one can say quite, very difficult.
[00:20:12] Matthias Kirsch You have already mentioned that, the unpredictability of these regional conferences, this candidate election. What is your assessment, what is the actual impact of this casting tour on the election results in the end?
[00:20:27] Christian Teevs So, as Veit said: Only a fraction of the members can be reached directly there live. But you must not forget, it will still transfer. So not only from the SPD, but also partly from TV stations live, in Saarbrücken, for example, was broadcast completely live. So many more members can look at it, than there are really there. In addition, of course, the reporting that many really inform themselves about the reporting. And that's why it's already meaningful. I think it is important for the SPD to present itself in such a way and to show that you want to do something different, to do something really modern instead of - as I said at the beginning - backroom politics.
[00:21:10] Matthias Kirsch You said earlier that the whole process takes a very long time, just under five months. The congress is only in December at the end. Would you trust a prognosis?
[00:21:20] Christian Teevs Dear not. It's really ... I could maybe name three, four teams at the moment, which I think are promising, but really dare not predict who will prevail in the end. Of course, of course: if Olaf Scholz does not win, then the party is really facing a major upheaval, because then it is unclear how it goes with him as vice-chancellor and finance minister of this coalition. And how is it going with the coalition? Whether it goes on with Scholz or whether the party really dares to do something completely different.
[00:21:51] Matthias Kirsch No prognosis of you. Well, I think what you can say for sure is that it was not so entertaining to find an SPD chair in recent years.
[00:21:58] Christian Teevs You can say that in any case.
[00:21:59] Matthias Kirsch Thank you, Christian, for being there.
[00:22:04] Christian Teevs Thank you.
[00:22:04] Matthias Kirsch That was votes, the political podcast of SPIEGEL ONLINE.
[00:22:08] At this point we would like to introduce once again our new Newscast SPIEGEL Update. Now you can hear three times a day, which is important - in the morning at 6 o'clock, at noon at 12 o'clock and in the evening at 18 o'clock. On Saturdays there will be a look back on the past week on Saturday, then on Sunday a preview of the coming week. You can now subscribe to SPIEGEL Update in your podcast app or listen directly to SPIEGEL.de. You can also hear our news on smart speakers like Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant. Just say: "Alexa, play the news from SPIEGEL" or "Okay Google, play the news from SPIEGEL".
[00:22:46] The next episode of this podcast, the voice casting, is available as usual from next Thursday on SPIEGEL ONLINE, Spotify and in all major podcast apps. If you would like to send us feedback, just write an e-mail to Stimmfang@spiegel.de or use our voice mailbox on 040 380 80 400. You can also send us a WhatsApp number to the same number, ie 040 380 80 400. Send Message. This episode was produced by Yasemin Yüksel and me, Matthias Kirsch. Thanks for supporting Johannes Kückens, Wiebke Rasmussen, Thorsten Rejzek, Matthias Streitz and Philipp Wittrock. The voice-casting music comes from Davide Russo.
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