FDP looks to angels to give it wings in Hamburg election

Ailing party’s campaign flirts with and fights against German sexist streak

FDP Hamburg leader Katja Suding (right) and two party colleagues did a photo shoot as ‘Linder’s Angels’ – a nod to luckless FDP leader Christian Lindner.

FDP Hamburg leader Katja Suding (right) and two party colleagues did a photo shoot as ‘Linder’s Angels’ – a nod to luckless FDP leader Christian Lindner.

 

Germany’s liberal Free Democrats (FDP) were once the kingmaker of postwar politics: proud champions of free markets and human rights.

Then the party was booted out of the Bundestag in September 2013. Almost 18 months later it is still flatlining at just 3 per cent in polls. Sunday’s election in the city state of Hamburg may be the party’s last chance to prove it is not surplus to German political requirements.

Desperate times call for desperate measures and there is a decidedly desperate touch to the campaign headed by FDP Hamburg leader Katja Suding. Rather than reclaim core competences in business or social politics, she has run a campaign that simultaneously fights against and flirts with the sexist streak still running through German public life.

Linder’s Angels 

First the 39-year-old communications adviser approved a poster with her face alongside the slogan “Our man for Hamburg”. Then she and two party colleagues did a photo shoot as “Linder’s

Angels” – a nod to leader of the luckless party Christian Lindner – in poses that recalled the Hollywood remake of Charlie’s Angels.

In glossy magazine Gala, Suding noted gravely that “attractiveness helps get attention but makes it difficult for attractive people to be noted as intelligent”.

Her kick-boxing homage to “Charlie’s Angel” Lucy Liu certainly attracted attention, but also no shortage of fremdschämen – feeling mortified on someone else’s behalf. Even the Bild tabloid, no stranger to objectifying women, was embarrassed, headlining the spread: “Miss Legs and her ladies”.

The worst part: it wasn’t the first time Suding’s legs got more attention than her politics in the campaign.

Last month ARD public television had to publicly apologise after a news report from the FDP’s new year conference lingered a little too long on her legs in a short skirt.

Rather than reinvent the party, FDP critics say the Hamburg leader has only highlighted the sorry state of affairs in the party.

Rebranding campaign

Since the election night shock of September 2013 the FDP has been on a rebranding campaign: dropping “party” from its name and adding a dash of magenta to its logo. That has done little to halt the open challenge from the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which in three years has lured away national-liberal FDP voters with demands that Greece leave the euro zone.

That cost the FDP dear in the 2013 federal election campaign and, in Hamburg, the AfD hopes the Greek crisis revival will help it continue last year’s three-in-a-row state election success. Polls show the AfD could enter the Hamburg state parliament – its fourth – with single, rather than double-digit support.

Like the AfD, the FDP is hovering around the 5 per cent cutoff point. If both get in, that could force ruling Social Democrat (SPD) mayor Olaf Scholz to take a coalition partner. Suding hopes to be first in line but the Hamburg SPD, on about 45 per cent, is eyeing the Greens, on 10 per cent.

After decades in which the FDP helped steer Ostpolitik and German unification, its political future lies in the hands of 1.3 million Hamburg voters and their response to a low-key election campaign about education standards, traffic jams and a woman’s legs.