Left Party national candidate Sahra Wagenknecht took a few shots at the SPD and Greens on the last day of the party's convention and hit a nerve with the base. Marcel Fürstenau reports from Hanover.
For three days, the Left Party debated the program it hopes will garner over ten percent of the vote in German federal parliamentary elections on September 24. The party seeks to win over voters by running on the fundamental themes of social equality and pacifism. Specifically: Raising taxes on the wealthy and millionaires, the elimination of the low-wage sector, higher pensions, no military deployments and no arms exports. The demands make up the core of issues behind which most in the Left Party can easily unite. Another issue which ran through the three-day event like a thread was less clear: Is it better to be in the government or the opposition?
On Sunday, Sahra Wagenknecht, who together with Dietmar Bartsch shares the chairmanship of the Left faction in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, had the last word on the subject. The two are campaigning together for September's elections, albeit with very different tones. When Wagenknecht speaks of the possibility of a coalition with the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Greens, known in Germany as a Red-Red-Green alliance, it sounds like a hedged rejection. She says the SPD and the Greens are pushing neoliberal policies and concludes that for the Left: "Good opposition policies are better than poor government policies." On Saturday, Bartsch announced: "Of course we are prepared to take on the responsibility of governing."
One name repeatedly heard: Jeremy Corbyn
One thing on which the two agreed was their criticism of SPD chancellor candidate Martin Schulz. It's not enough to change "engineers," the whole train has to be pointed in a different direction, said Bartsch. Wagenknecht says that Schulz is responsible for disappointing millions of people hoping for political change. She says the fact that poll numbers shot up 30 percent after his nomination showed that people were "longing for different policies."
Wagenknecht is convinced that the SPD has once again fallen in opinion polls because the party was unwilling to make an "equality turn" – a phrase heard often over the course of the three-day convention in Hanover. The same can be said of the name Jeremy Corbyn, the chairman of the British Labour party, who was able to produce surprisingly good results in Thursday's parliamentary elections despite predictions of disaster.
'You don't win elections by following the mainstream'
Wagenknecht thinks the Left Party can pull off the same feat. But she warned: "You don't win elections by following the mainstream." And that is exactly what she accuses the SPD of doing. She mocked the party, saying: "Unfortunately we do not have the power to turn Martin Schulz into a Jeremy Corbyn." It was a comment that sparked laughter and satisfaction among delegates. Wagenknecht told the crowd that the Left could "stir up" Germany. Adding that the party needed to head into the campaign with passion and commitment.
"We have to be so strong that there is no way around us." And with that, the candidate was referring to all parties, but especially to the SPD and Greens. In the end, it almost sounded like a timid pitch for a Red-Red-Green coalition. But that is not how it was meant. Moreover, opinion polls offer no evidence to suggest support for such in German society. "We don't have to give ourselves headaches worrying about whether we will have to govern" – said Dietmar Bartsch to loud applause in his address Saturday. Sahra Wagenknecht's requiem for the SPD and Greens was likewise greeted with great enthusiasm.