Couple spearhead political move to create ‘just and peaceful’ Germany
Wagenknecht and Lafontaine woo AfD working-class voters with #fairLand
Supporters of German anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD) in Berlin on May 9th. Photograph: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters
It began with a rumour, then the hastag #fairLand. Now key players in Germany’s hard-left scene have begun in earnest with plans for a new broad movement to pull back working-class voters from the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD).
Leading the campaign: hard-left Linke leader Sahra Wagenknecht, against opposition from more moderate party colleagues who fear she will split their party. Backing her is husband Oskar Lafontaine, the former SPD leader who later founded the Left Party and is still bearing a grudge against his old comrades.
Any push by the duo to cannibalise further the SPD vote could hardly come at a worse time. A public television poll on Friday showed the SPD, once the proud political home of Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt, just three points ahead of the AfD – an organisation 150 years its junior.
The latest poll confirms a long-term trend: the AfD – not the Linke – have been the main beneficiary of the SPD’s decline. And so an 11-point #fairLand paper, largely drafted by the couple and circulating in Berlin political circles, appears to be an attempt to counter the AfD with a collective movement mixing left- and right-wing policies for a “just and peaceful country”.
The movement’s unsigned position paper contains many classic left positions, putting it in competition with the Linke: disarmament and détente, a stronger social state that prevents poverty, a reversal of privatisation and a fairer tax system with greater burden on the well-off.
But the real focus of the movement – recent defectors to the AfD – soon becomes clear in the paper’s focus on law-and-order politics: more and better-equipped police and a push to return home refugees. Other priorities include protecting cultural independence and greater “respect for tradition and identity” in Europe.
The paper warns that, for many, “open borders in Europe means more competition for badly paid jobs”.
This all carries the fingerprints of Wagenknecht-Lafontaine, whose strident tone on migration and identity issues of late have made them even more enemies than before within their own party ranks.
For months, Dr Wagenknecht has infuriated her own party with arguments that failing to prioritise German welfare recipients over asylum seekers and other foreign-nationals allows the least well-off in society to be played off against each other – to the sole benefit of the AfD.
The paper says refugee crisis had caused huge uncertainty and the movement says it “rejects racism and xenophobia”.
“But we consider it unacceptable how the Merkel government dealt with the crisis,” it adds. “At the end the socially disadvantaged.”
It remains to be seen from where they will attract support: Left Party co-leader Bernd Riexinger insists Germany “doesn’t need a new party” while SPD left-wingers view the project a populist wolf in sheep’s clothing. But the paper has emerged as a sinking feeling spreads through SPD left-wingers that, despite promises by leaders to the contrary, their party continues to carry centrist Merkel policies in their third grand coalition with the CDU.
In a nod to this, the #fairLand position paper argues that the SPD is increasingly indistinguishable from Dr Merkel’s CDU with every new coalition alliance.
Germany’s increasingly crowded new Bundestag suggests a party landscape “in decline from which we want to start a new movement”, the paper says, drawing on the example of France, Austria and other European neighbours.
In Der Spiegel magazine, Mr Lafontaine – who walked out of the finance ministry in protest at Gerhard Schröder’s third way policies – confirmed he was working on #fairLand and had approached prominent figures with a view to securing their support.
It will not be a traditional party, he said, but a loose movement that will propose policies, use that to attract supporters, and in this way “force the parties to carry them to fruition”.
“If we continue as we are going,” said Mr Lafontaine of Germany’s left-wing parties, “we’ll never reach our political goals.”
Meanwhile his wife, Sahra Wagenknecht, has done a series of interviews regretting her earlier, uncompromising Stalinist stance that made her unelectable to many German voters.
In a new departure to soften her image ahead of the launch of #fairLand, she appeared on a German television cookery programme on Sunday evening to whisk up the French dessert favourite île flottante or floating island.