Klingbeil before election to the SPD chief: “The SPD has looked into the abyss”

On Saturday, Lars Klingbeil wants to be elected SPD chairman and announces something big in an exclusive interview with “I want to shape my party,” says the party’s previous general secretary and explains his strategy for success and his future priorities. Olaf Scholz should be re-elected with even more votes. Klingbeil does not leave a good impression on the state of the Union. Olaf Scholz has been Federal Chancellor since Wednesday. A few months ago hardly anyone thought that was possible. Have you already processed for yourself what the SPD has succeeded in doing?

Lars Klingbeil: After the election evening, things continued in quick succession, so there was hardly any time to look back. But the election of Chancellor in the Bundestag made me very emotional.

What exactly did you think of?

That we managed to catch up from third to first place. That there were times when nobody believed in us anymore and you had to motivate yourself to make it work anyway.

But you didn’t show your doubts. On the contrary: you predicted the election victory with great confidence. Was that an act?

No. Of course, there were times when I wasn’t as confident as I was. But those were moments, not days. I have often thought: “Now someone has to see that it was another good day, that we did something right. We have defined our priorities. We have chosen the right agency. We have something again in the government today Well done. ” Then the next day comes the survey and you’re stapled at 13, 14, 15 percent. Of course that does something to you.

That you were experiencing moments of frustration also showed through some of your recent comments. For example, when you discovered that since the election no journalist had apologized for the question of why the SPD was putting up a candidate for chancellor at all.

The formulation I used was very flippant. The question was already justified by our survey results. But I have had many situations in which I have told journalists why the voters will ultimately decide in favor of Olaf Scholz and looked into bored faces. Pen and paper were put aside, according to the motto “Now let’s let him finish and then we’ll ask about the future of the SPD in the opposition”.

One of the main reasons for your success is the unity and discretion of the SPD, with almost no internal information getting out. This style also shaped the coalition negotiations. How do you enforce this confidentiality?

Confidentiality cannot be prescribed. One can only advertise that confidentiality makes a lot possible in politics. The fact that we were able to talk in confidence in the coalition negotiations about how to resolve major substantive conflicts that were there made us stronger. Just as the confidential appointment made us as the party leadership stronger that we would nominate Olaf Scholz as candidate for chancellor. That was already weeks before, but everyone held tight. After the resignation of Andrea Nahles, the SPD looked into the abyss. And the reason for this was also the indiscretions and piercing that one now experiences in others. That is why it was my job as Secretary General to work on teamwork and cooperation.

You obviously managed to do that, just as you managed the election campaign that you managed for your party. According to the usual mechanisms, the wage has a place in the federal cabinet. Instead, they want to be elected party chairman tomorrow. Why?

Because that is a nice position for me and, if I am elected, it will be a great honor for me.

But you flirted with the Department of Defense?

Of course, after winning the election, I also thought about going to the cabinet. But when Norbert Walter-Borjans decided to quit, it was clear to me that I wanted to take up this position, and then Olaf Scholz asked me to take this step. Since I made the decision for myself, it feels very good.

You are only 43 years old and, together with Saskia Esken, want to lead the most historic party in the Federal Republic of Germany. Isn’t that a huge step?

I am aware that I would like to take on an office where my predecessors are Kurt Schumacher, Willy Brandt and Gerhard Schröder. Or Franz Müntefering, who really impressed me as party chairman. They are all historical figures. I have tremendous respect for it. At the same time, I know that I can achieve a lot in this position. During my time as Secretary General, we modernized, digitized and made the SPD more diverse, including in management positions. We managed to break new ground programmatically. I was able to put my stamp on it in many places and the successful federal election was like a kind of journeyman’s piece, so to speak.

When you say “I want that”, does that mean that you can basically imagine being chairman of the SPD for four years or more?

Yes, I want to shape my party.

What are you planning to do?

I see two programmatic priorities. One is that I would like to occupy the area of ​​international politics much more strongly again. After all, we are Willy Brandt’s party and we have a historical line on international issues. That has been neglected in recent years, also because of Corona. Foreign policy is always suspected of being an elite issue. But for the steel worker in Duisburg or the industrial worker in Wolfsburg, the question of what is happening in China and what is happening in Silicon Valley is of incredible importance. That the international dimension plays a major role in people’s everyday life, the SPD has to radiate more strongly again.

And the second focus?

Everything that stands behind this bulky concept of transformation. In other words, the upheavals that are pending and that will demand a lot from us as a society: climate, digitization, changes in the world of work. For the SPD, it’s about getting people through this change. Questions arise about the future of the welfare state, about education, further training and qualification. And it is about distribution issues when large corporations make profits at the expense of the general public. These programmatic questions of transformation will be the determining topic of politics for the next ten years. I want the SPD to be the place where these debates take place.

Is that what you meant when you last spoke about striving for a “social democratic decade”? Or is it a matter of permanently displacing the Union to second place from the new position of strength?

Social democratic answers are good for people and we can implement them if we are responsible. To be aware of this means: It is not enough to win a federal election. We want to win the next state parliament elections. We want to ensure that Olaf Scholz is re-elected with an even stronger result in 2025. 26 percent is great, but there is still room for improvement. To concentrate on working to make the SPD even stronger so that we can make politics for the people, and to be convinced that social democratic responses to the challenges of the time are needed: that’s what I mean by a social democratic decade.

Does this ambition also derive from the current state of the Union?

Of course, the conservatives in this country are completely disoriented right now. Friedrich Merz suddenly stands for the future of the Union, but he got stuck in economic policy in the 1970s. He only insists that corporate taxes will be lowered, that companies will be left in peace as much as possible and that profits will increase.

The left also criticize their coalition partner, the FDP, in the same way.

Take a look at the coalition agreement. Economically, that is much smarter and more far-reaching than the economic policy of Friedrich Merz. The Union has lost its competence on the subject of economic policy.

Although the Union was weakly positioned for the Bundestag election, it would have been much narrower without the mistakes made by Chancellor candidate Armin Laschet. Aren’t you overestimating the actual popularity of the SPD?

Nobody in the SPD is cocky or self-indulgent. Still, the fact that we ended up in first place was our own achievement, even if the others certainly made mistakes. Now after 16 years of Angela Merkel they have to rearrange themselves.

From Saturday you will definitely belong to the first guard of federal politics. Together with Robert Habeck, you are fifth in our Forsa politician ranking. What does it mean to you to be a politics celebrity?

I’ve been in the tunnel like this since the election victory. Something is happening around me that I may not really realize until Christmas or New Year. I am delighted that I have taken another step forward and I am honored by the encouragement. But I don’t sit at home in the evenings and celebrate myself. And I’ll keep it that way.

The fight for a disco shuttle bus in your home town of Munster was your first political success. That’s where it all started. Is there still room for escapades in your life today?

If I drink two glasses of wine in the evening today, that is the highest level of escapade.

Let’s take a look at the New Year. What will be the first highlight of the traffic light government?

As the SPD, it is very important to us that the 12 euro minimum wage comes quickly.

And on which topic can we expect the first traffic light dispute? With money, the China course or something completely different?

There will be disagreements in government on certain issues. But I am sure: We have laid the foundations on a human level so that it will not be a dispute, but a fruitful discussion.

Sebastian Huld spoke to Lars Klingbeil

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