Expected SPD success in Berlin paves way for route back to Chancellery


UPDATE 18.45: As expected, the SPD have won but their share of the vote fell marginally from 30.8 per cent in 2006 to 29.5 per cent. The CDU were up slightly but only to 23.5 per cent in a City where they used to dominate. The Greens are the big gainers on 18 per cent up for 13.1 per cent. The FDP could only muster 2 per cent falling behind the Pirate Party – campaigning for better digital privacy – on 8.5 per cent. They therefore lose all their seats. The Left party came fourth on 13.4 per cent.

The Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) anticipate winning today’s Berlin state election with Klaus Wowereit expected to retain his position as Mayor. A victory would be the second piece of good news for Europe’s centre-left following Helle Thorning-Schmidt’s victory in Denmark on Friday morning. The SPD are already looking ahead to regaining the Chancellery in 2013.

A win in Berlin would mark the SPD’s eighth on the trot in the lander including, most recently, in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern on September 4th. In the latest national polls, however, they remain behind the CDU-CSU on 30 per cent to 33 per cent. But the Greens on 19 per cent could gain enough seats to make a Red-Green coalition a reality. If Merkel’s current coalition partners, the FDP, fall below 5 per cent they could be wiped out in Parliament increasing the chances of the SPD returning to power. Other options include another Grand Coalition between CDU and SPD or even a CDU-Green partnership.

Under the Chairmanship of former environment minister, Sigmar Gabriel, the party are half way through executing a four year strategy to get back to power. After their record defeat in 2009 they spent the first year avoiding a party break up and preaching a message of unity.

Over the last year the party have put together a policy platform. Tax will be a key debate at the next election. The SPD want to frame tax cutters (in particular the FDP) as fiscally irresponsible. Instead, they propose increasing the top rate of tax from 43 per cent to 49 per cent for those earning above €100,000. There are some within their faction who are looking for an additional 3 per cent super tax on those earning over €150,000. They also propose introducing a property tax and reforming inheritance tax.

The revenues will be used partly to pay down the deficit but also for a programme of spending on infrastructure and education (Germany fell back dramatically in the most recent PISA rankings). They are also looking at introducing a childcare offer of five free hours of childcare per week for every child.

Over the coming year, the party will focus on organisation. At their annual conference in December they will adopt a set of supporting guidelines. This is expected to include proposals to open the party up to non-members, use primaries for some selections, and increase the use of social media in campaigning. All themes familiar to party reformers in the UK.

In the fourth year, they will pick their candidate for Chancellor. The favourite is former finance minister, Peer Steinbruck, who was backed last month by Bild, a popular tabloid paper, in a prominent op ed. Some favour 2009 candidate and former Vice Chancellor, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who currently chairs the SPD’s parliamentary group as effective leader of the opposition. The outsider is the savvy Sigmar Gabriel who gave a powerful speech in the Bundestag 10 days ago on the euro which was described by some as the speech that Steinmeier should have given.

To avoid a British style pyschodrama, the three are working together as a “troika” and pledge to make a decision among themselves at the end of 2012. The partnership appears to be a genuine one but it will be a hard task for the three pretenders to hold the line for a full 15 months. The SPD’s chances in 2013 will depend on their doing so.

For more on the Institute for Public Policy Research’s recent trip to Germany, click here.

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