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.
How it all went wrong for Germany's SPD