Friday 29 October 2021
SPD co-chief no longer wants
Walter-Borjans walks alienated, but free
A comment by Sebastian Huld
The surprising announcement by the SPD chairman not to run again fits Norbert Walter-Borjans: He had always asserted that he wanted nothing more than to lead the SPD out of the crisis. Now he can go free, also because federal politics has not only given him pleasure.
What is Norbert Walter-Borjans doing? With his surprising announcement of resignation, the SPD co-chairman refuted the dictum of Franz Müntefering, the last SPD chief who was universally recognized as a great chairman. Müntefering had described the office of the highest social democrat as the finest after that of the Pope. And, as is well known, a Pope does not give up voluntarily unless he is in very bad shape. In terms of the Social Democrats, this means: An SPD chairman does not renounce unless the party is in very bad shape. And because that has been the case very often in recent years, Andrea Nahles, Martin Schulz and Sigmar Gabriel did not really go voluntarily.
But Norbert Walter-Borjans takes this freedom. After two years at the party leadership alongside Saskia Esken, he does not want to run for the post again at the party congress in December. You can say that someone is walking at their peak. Many politicians who become addicted to the excitement and attention of the profession fail to do so. Walter-Borjans, however, had already assured since his surprising election as co-chair that he no longer needed any further political office. The former finance minister of North Rhine-Westphalia had identified this late career highlight from the start as exactly that: as an unexpected happiness that means appreciating not wanting more.
The Beck fate is avoided
Many successful state politicians who switch to the hyperventilating juggernaut of capital politics late in their careers are eaten by it. The former Rhineland-Palatinate Prime Minister and short-term SPD chairman Kurt Beck is an almost legendary example of regional political heavyweights who were found to be too easy in Berlin because they could not withstand internal party intrigues and constant media pressure. Walter-Borjans faced the same fate: He often remained pale behind the vocal party left Esken and the self-confident networker Lars Klingbeil, who as Secretary General already held the strings in the Willy Brandt House in his hand, especially in the first months together. when Walter-Borjans could not even imagine himself becoming head of the SPD; let alone rise to be the savior of his beloved party.
The experienced observers of capital city politics certainly did not trust him to do either of these things: In the search for pointed formulations, the rather quiet and friendly Walter-Borjans likes to get lost in box sentences. Added to this is his small stature, the reserved nature and his explicit renunciation of further career goals: All of this went well with the fact that the 69-year-old was too weak for the tough everyday business of the alpha politicians. Walter-Borjans was irritated from the start. Above all, he understood his inner freedom not to have to get a ministerial office in the federal government as a strength and proof of his personal independence. Because Walter-Borjans contradicted the standard of the ambitious politician, this was interpreted as a weakness on various occasions.
In fact, Walter-Borjans and Esken focused on what they had promised in their bid for party leadership: the party. In countless conferences and meetings, whether on site or online, the chairmen again tied new ties between the federal party leadership and the grassroots. There was a lot of frustration and astonishment over the course of the content, election results and power games at the top of the SPD. The close exchange between the grassroots and the top as well as the inclusive program-finding process form the foundation of an election success for the SPD that was not yet considered possible at the beginning of the summer.
Walter-Borjans found it strange that the capital did not notice what was happening across the board of the party, in the province. That his campaigning in the country and that of Esken were not only interpreted by the Union as an attempt to hide two unpopular chairmen, while an at least recognized SPD chancellor candidate Olaf Scholz mostly contested the major campaign appearances and important TV debates alone. He found it tiring that Walter-Borjans had to assert again and again that he was not a spider enemy with Scholz, even though there had not been a public dissent for months.
Resign as the winner
At some point Walter-Borjans found it necessary to emphasize his part in the election campaign strategy, in the party’s new unity and in the commitment to Scholz himself as candidate for chancellor. From the outside, hardly anyone had ascribed it to him, who had no alpha attitude and no network in Berlin. In the public eye, the makers of the success were Scholz, Klingbeil and Kühnert as well as Esken and Walter-Borjans – in that order.
Walter-Borjans will be able to get over dealing with his person. He is actually stepping down as the winner. An SPD that stumbled towards collapse two years ago is suddenly the strongest force in the country again. Walter-Borjans can claim a fair share of this success. By renouncing re-election, he is doing the SPD one last favor and vacating a top post. After all, many Social Democrats with career planning are demanding their piece of the pie after the election victory. And because a ministerial office does not cease to exist for all alphas in a three-party coalition, one or one of the ministers can now take over the co-chairmanship that becomes vacant. And Walter-Borjans is one of the people who has proven that even moderately difficult state politicians can leave deep footprints in political Berlin.