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How it all went wrong for Germany's SPD

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How it all went wrong for Germany's SPD


In the days when Angela Merkel could only dream of the top job, Germany’s Social Democrats were flying high. In 1998 Gerhard Schroeder’s bright new centre-left ousted Helmut Kohl, the long-serving conservative Chancellor. Now, in opposition for the first time in 11 years, the SPD must be wondering where did it all go wrong?

Recognising what he called a “bitter day for German Social Democracy”, failed candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he planned to lead the party in parliament. But a hard look at the SPD’s falling score – culminating in Sunday’s post-war low of 23 percent – will surely prompt calls for heads to roll. The result means the days of Germany’s uneasy left-right grand coalition are over. It was never a natural partnership with Merkel’s Christian Democrats but it got the SPD into the cabinet, Steinmeier himself serving as Foreign Minister. Political boundaries were blurred and a perceived shift to the centre alienated many on the left of Germany’s oldest party. They found their hero in a radical new formation, fronted by former Social Democrat leader Oskar Lafontaine. Disillusioned with party policy he jumped ship, going on to co-found Die Linke – the Left Party. A mix of disaffected Socialists and ex-Communists, Die Linke has, little by little, eaten away at the SPD’s support. As a result, many believe a lurch to the left and a search for compromise with Lafontaine is the only way for the SPD to ever regain power. Whatever they choose to do, the Social Democrats must now find a new identity, a new energy and a new electorate.

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