Tue Nov 4th, 2008 at 09:04:35 AM EST
Don't let the other side win by chasing purity. Don't endanger achieving what little can be achieved by insisting that all follow your way. Don't play self-important, everyone has to bring sacrifices for their party.
Wasn't this what the centrists of the Left said to their left wing again and again over the past two decades? Be they the New Labourites and Bliarites in the UK's Labour Party, the DLC in the Democratic Party in the USA, Third Wayists all over Europe, including Schröderites in Germany's Social Democrats (SPD).
But what do they do when it would be their turn to support their comrades? On positions endorsed by 95% of their party?
Right: for purity, they rather let the other side win, prevent the advancement of any of their party's goals, all this not without personal motivation, and backstab their comrades.
In the German state of Hessen, after a ten month struggle to form a new government, after marathon talks for an SPD-Greens minority government with Left Party outside support, after test voting a month ago, after wide majorities of all levels of all three parties gave their approval, one day before the crucial vote -- four members of the Hessen SPD's right wing, led by vice-chairman Jürgen Walter, declared they won't support their left-wing party boss Andrea Ypsilanti for PM.
|JŘrgen Walter and Andrea Ypsilanti on an DPA photo from SPIEGEL.|
Brought across by afew
Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer
The four regional MP rebels include Dagmar Metzger, the woman whose early declaration of rebellion lengthened the process so much, two more like-minded backbenchers who did speak out on prior party congresses, but voted for Ypsilanti in the test vote -- and Hessen SPD vice-chairman Jürgen Walter.
The rivalry between Walter and Ypsilanti began almost exactly two years ago. In the German state led by the scariest and most ruthless CDU PM, the battered SPD held leadership elections. The centrist-dominated federal leadership favoured someone of their kind, the regional parliament faction leader, a centrist financial expert: Jürgen Walter. But to great surprise of everyone, on 2 December 2006, he lost to an oft-dismissed woman from the party left wing: Andrea Ypsilanti.
As per the section title, Walter became Ypsilanti's vice. He stayed loyal while she ran an unconventional election strategy of unabashed leftism and attacking PM Roland Koch on his supposed strengths -- which in January was enough to eliminate Roland Koch's seemingly unassailable government majority, but not for a desired SPD-Greens majority.
When, after the failure of all attempts to form three-party coalitions, the minority government option came up, Walter stayed silent. When there was uproar from right-wing and centrist politicians and media about reliance on the Left Party, he professed loyalty in the public.
However, now we know that he began the backstabbing already then. Tucked away in the SPIEGEL article on last Saturday's Hessen SPD special congress, at which 95% approved the minority government coalition contract but Walter made his opposition public, I found this passage:
|Bereits im Frühjahr war er Stichwortgeber für Journalisten, die sich über eine rot-grün-rote Zusammenarbeit ausließen.||Already in the spring, he was giving cues to journalists who ranted on about a red-Green-red cooperation.|
I note that I believe to discover a whiff of journalistic guilty feelings in this revelation, upon realising that they have been had in Walter's personal power games, while the woman they described as selfishly power-hungry in pursuing the PM job turned out to enjoy overwhelming party support. Then again, only a whiff -- since then SPIEGEL rolled out all the heavy guns against (read resident neocon Claus Christian Malzahn's op-ed if you must).
The alienated saboteur
After blowing it for the first time, in no small part at the urging of the Greens, Ypsilanti & co prepared for a second attempt at the PM vote with a marathon plan of asking for the approval of every level of all three parties over the course of two months. It was then that Walter gave the first public signals of rebellion.
At a previous Hessen SPD special party conference a month ago, 98% approved the start of coalition talks with the Greens. Seeing the width of Ypsilanti's support, Walter thought to undercut her by pushing demands unacceptable for the Greens.
|SPD in Hessen: Ypsilanti bringt Genossen auf Linie - SPIEGEL ONLINE - Nachrichten - Politik|| SPD in Hessen: Ypsilanti brings comrades in line - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - Politics |
|...Ypsilantis ewiger Rivale Jürgen Walter [spricht] davon, die SPD werde sich "hart" für den Flughafenausbau einsetzen - in Frankfurt wie in Kassel-Calden. Ebenso dürften die Autobahnprojekte A44 und A49 "nicht gefährdet" werden. Dabei greift Walter tief in die Trickkiste: Zu diesen Maßnahmen "stehen wir, genauso wie es Andrea in ihrer Rede gesagt hat". Die Vorsitzende bläst die Backen auf, das passt ihr gerade gar nicht. "So hat sie es nicht gesagt", schimpft ein Delegierter aus dem Schwalm-Eder-Kreis.||...Ypsilanti's eternal rival Jürgen Walter [says] that the SPD will fight "hard" for airport expansion - in Frankfurt as well as in Kassel-Calden. Similarly, the highway projects A44 and A49 can "not be threatened". Walter reaches deep into his bag of tricks: We "stand by" these measures "just like Andrea said in her speech". The chairman puffs her cheeks, this does not suit her at all right now. "She didn't say it that way", railed a delegate from the Schwalm-Eder district.|
| Tatsächlich sprach Ypsilanti lediglich davon, sie werde "versuchen", die SPD-Position durchzusetzen. Von einem unantastbaren Projekt, wie es Walter suggeriert, keine Rede. ||And in fact, Ypsilanti only spoke about "trying" to prevail with the SPD's position. No word about an inviolable project as suggested by Walter.|
However, it came worse for Walter. Not only did the coalition talks run smoothly, but he had to realise he won't get the hoped-for position in Ypsilanti's government: economy minister. Ypsilanti's choice should not have came as a surprise at all: Hermann Scheer drafted one of her key election programmes: a big push for renewables. Walter was offered the faction leadership, which he refused.
Walter still did not retract his promise to elect Ypsilanti. Instead, he attacked the draft coalition contract he himself signed on to as negotiator -- as one threatening tens of thousands of jobs. He repeated that line as his reason today. (Now tell me what the MSM would say about a party leftie blocking his leader on the grounds that his plans threaten jobs and social security and labour rights...) But again only 5% sided with him and the anti-communist conscience rebels.
The situation was not lost on Hessen state Greens, who held their own conference a day later. So they warned potential rebels that hiding behind the secret vote won't be taken kindly, and said (implicitely, but in no uncertain terms) that they should forget about the Greens as coalition partner if they topple Ypsilanti tomorrow.
It was probably this unexpected strong pressure that forced the rebels to come out, in which I can hardly imagine that Walter did not play the crucial role as organisator.
...and behind the scenes, Schröder's ghost laughs
In an article on the Hessen Greens after their own special party conference on Sunday, SPIEGEL notes:
|Der Gast aus Berlin, Parteichef Reinhard Bütikofer, spricht ... vom "großen Interesse" der Bundespartei, dass die "hessischen Parteifreunde" es schaffen.||The guest from Berlin, party chief Reinhard Bütikofer ... speaks of the "great interest" the federal party takes in the success of the "Hessian party friends".|
| Bei Ypsilantis Parteitag ließ sich übrigens am Samstag niemand von der SPD-Prominenz aus der Hauptstadt blicken - weder der Vorsitzende Franz Müntefering noch Spitzenkandidat Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Nicht einmal Generalsekretär Hubertus Heil.||By the way, at Ypsilanti's party congress on Saturday, none of the prominent members of the SPD from the capital showed up - neither chairman Franz Müntefering, nor chancellor candidate Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Not even general secretary Hubertus Heil.|
You remember, the Schröderite Old Guard regained power in a semi-coup two months ago. While there is no evidence of their direct involvement in the rebellion of Walter & co, they could have intervened, but didn't.
In fact, Müntefering practised some praise with faint damning. Quoting from an IMO in truth mis-titled SPIEGEL article:
|Drama in Hessen: Müntefering greift hessische SPD-Abweichler an - SPIEGEL ONLINE - Nachrichten - Politik|| Drama in Hessen: Müntefering attacks Hessian SPD dissenters - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - Politics |
|"Ich rede nicht von einem Komplott", sagte Müntefering am Montag in Berlin. Aber die Abweichler hätten ihre Entscheidung zu einem Zeitpunkt getroffen, zu dem ein "verantwortliches Gegensteuern nicht mehr möglich war". Er kritisierte scharf, dass die Gruppe um SPD-Landesvize Jürgen Walter über Monate signalisiert habe, den Schritt mitzugehen und erst "wenige Stunden vor der Abstimmung ihr Gewissen entdeckt" habe.||"I will not talk about a conspiracy", Müntefering said on Monday in Berlin. But the dissenters took their decision at a time at which "steering in the opposite direction was no more possible in a responsible way". He criticized sharply that the group around state SPD vice-chairman Jürgen Walter signaled for months that they will go along with this step, and only "a few hours before the vote did they discover their conscience".|
|Auf die Frage, ob das Verhalten der vier Landtagsabgeordneten parteischädigend sei, sagte Müntefering, es sei zumindest "schade, dass es so passiert ist".||Answering the question of whether the conduct of the four members of the regional parliament was damaging for the party, Müntefering said that it was at least "a shame that it happened this way."|
Speak: the problem is only that they waited for so long with stalling the wish of 95% of their party. He also felt necessary to reinforce that there will be no cooperation with the Left Party at a federal level. And, most ominously, it's not the rebels he wants to consult with immediately, their decision the finished past, instead...
|Die Bundes-SPD werde jetzt versuchen zu helfen, kündigte Müntefering an. ... Er werde mit Ypsilanti in Kürze beraten, wie es in Hessen weitergehe.||The federal SPD will now try to help, Müntefering announced. ... He will soon consult Ypsilanti about how things should continue in Hessen.|
Postscript: in SPIEGEL's analysis, contrary to my view, Müntefering & co wished a smooth election of Ypsilanti in Hessen just so that the SPD's internal troubles over it come to an end. But they too think he left Ypsilanti's future open.