Fri Jan 25th, 2008 at 06:55:29 AM EST
Many in left Blogostan the world over yearn for political leaders who'd stop triangulating, who'd stop letting the Overton Window move to the right; who respond to rivals to the left not by demonisation and Rovian tactics, but attractive policies. Politicians who stand for something.
I point you to a serious real-life test of whether this could work.
This Sunday (27 January 2008), Hessen state in Germany will hold elections. The incumbent conservative government, which has a comfortable majority in the present regional parliament, is headed by Germany's nastiest center[?]-right politician, Roland Koch. His potential successor is the onetime marginal leftie of the Social Democrats (SPD), Andrea Ypsilanti.
The history of the campaign so far has already broken all the standard rule books of politics all mainstream politicians believed since the nineties.
I'm not normally in favour of focusing only on the person of two leading candidates in a parliamentary election -- for example, the recent history of both the Italian Left and Right is not explained by Prodi vs. Berlusconi. That applies both to political analysis and the parties' own campaigns.
But this case is special. On one side, we have someone who was known for one thing: standing for certain issues (even when they were "out"). On the other side, we have a macho media populist, who is widely considered the Christian Democrats' (CDU's) second-strongest figure (after Chancellor Angela Merkel).
So, in SPD's campaign, HE (ER) is:
Photo by partykamera from Flickr.com
|Roland Koch, CDU, PM of Hessen state since 1999. At that time, the centre-left federal government wanted to introduce double citizenship. Koch won with a highly demagogue-ish signature collection campaign against this law. Stoking the waves of xenophobia has been a mark of his campaigns ever since, as were other authoritarian populisms. The one he tried in this campaign was diaried by nanne and me in "Immigrant youth crime": from campaign theme to blowback for the German Right.
Koch is also an economic liberal and friend of big corporations (Hessen state includes banking and industry centre Frankfurt am Main, as well as industry centre Kassel), and left public services wither (including police). He survived several scandals, including party finance ones. He played and plays an important role in Germany's upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, which consists of delegates of the governments of Germany's 16 federal states.
On the left corner, the Hessen SPD campaign's SHE (SIE):
Photo from Die Zeit
|Andrea Ypsilanti, SPD is leading the SPD's list in the current elections. She was a longtime marginal leftist within the party. She opposed then chancellor Gerhard Schröder's |reforms social cutbacks, and advocated progressive reforms instead, especially in education. Schröder dismissed her as 'Ms. XY'. But, unlike many SPD leftists, she didn't left for the new Left party.
Then, on 2 December 2006, she stunned the federal party establishment by beating the (centrist) favourite 175:165 in the Hessen leadership contest. In the meantime, egged on by losing votes to the Left Party, the federal party also moved to the left -- closer to positions she long held. And by now, she turned from chanceless outsider to a potential upstager.
And no I am not impartial... two funny campaign videos for German-speakers (I'll post translations later):
|Ypsilanti chose three main campaign themes for her party. One is also the top theme for her party federally: the introduction of a minimal wage.|
Another, which can be read in German (image-link left), is an education reform, one moving away from the current three-tiered, early-separation model towards one with children together for longer, based on the Finnish model. The third (read in German in image-link right) is to replace the capacity lost by Hessen's two aging and to-be-closed nuclear plants with renewables, rather than new nuclear or coal.
After Koch started his nasty 'immigrant youth crime' campaign, Ypsilanti added another theme: law-and-order Koch actually cut police jobs in Hessen, she promised to do the opposite.
As you can see, Ypsilanti's initial was made into a trademark for the campaign. The strange name comes from a divorced Greek ex-husband, she currently lives with a partner and child in wild marriage. The HE-SHE campaign was meant to pre-empt explicit and implicit attacks on her gender, and to attack Koch at his supposed strength of being a strongman.
The campaign themes are so leftish that they seem to be stolen from the Greens and the Left party, except they were Ypsilanti's positions through all the years, and the energy programme was authored by the federal SPD parliamentary faction's specialist. She is very conscious about her campaign, for example, see this quote from nanne's translation of an article thematising the comparison to Sarko vs. Ségo in the French Presidential elections:
|Gleich muss sie weiter zur Moschee im Gutleutviertel, hier um die Ecke. Am Morgen hat Roland Koch ein Burka-Verbot an Schulen gefordert - obwohl bislang in Hessens Schulen keine einzige Burka-Trägerin gesichtet wurde. Da passt der Moscheebesuch besonders gut, um sich einmal wieder als größtmögliche Alternative zu Koch zu präsentieren. Ségolène Royal hat am Ende mit ihrer Strategie gegen den robusten Sarkozy verloren, doch die hessische Spitzenkandidatin der SPD sieht darin kein Omen, eher eine lehrreiche Warnung. Nicht zu wenig Härte, glaubt Ypsilanti, sei Royal zum Verhängnis geworden, sondern zu wenig Klarheit. "Am Ende hat sie zu viele Kompromisse gemacht, sie hat geglaubt, sie müsse in die Mitte rücken, und hat ihr Profil nicht durchgehalten." || ||In a moment she has to go on to visit a mosque in the Gutleutviertel, just around the corner from here. In the morning, Roland Koch had demanded a ban on burkas in schools - although so far not a single girl with a burka has been sighted in Hesse's schools. A visit to the mosque is especially fitting in this context, to once again present herself as the greatest possible alternative to Koch. Ségolène Royal lost with her strategy against the robust Sarkozy, but the Hessian frontrunner for the SDP sees no omen in this, more an instructive warning. Not a lack of toughness, Ypsilanti believes, would have led to the fate of Royal, but a lack of clarity. "In the end she made too many compromises. She believed that she had to move to the centre, and did not perservere in her profile."|
Now how did this campaign play in the polls? Surprisingly well! You can check all Hessen polls here. In the last elections, CDU and SPD scored 48.8% and 29.1% respectively. When Ypsilanti took over, it was 43% to 27%. But in the last poll, it's level at 38% both!
It's apparent that SPD took a lot of votes from the Greens (Grüne). However, it still seems likely that SPD+Greens will be behind CDU+FDP (FDP are [neo]liberals). What will likely decide the outcome of the elections is whether the Left Party makes it across the 5% limit: if yes, neither block will have majority.
The last opinion poll ended 18 January, but some things happened since. Melanchton and then I reported friendly fire from a nasty centrist, former economy minister and current energy company oversight board member Wolfgang Clement (SPD/coal lobby). Koch for his part, after his thinly veiled xenophobic campaign backfired, kicked off an even more transparent negative campaign: with the slogan "Ypsilanti, Al-Wazir und die Kommunisten stoppen" = "Stop Ypsilanti, Al-Wazir [the Green's top candidate] and the communists".
Then the Hessen FDP declared that they won't coalition with 'this SPD', and Merkel herself intervened, declaring that the Grand Coalition (means CDU+SPD) she has on the federal level won't go in Hessen.
We'll see how it all works out, we'll cover the elections on ET. Fingers crossed. But even a narrow defeat would prove Ypsilanti's campaign philosophy right.