Monday 21 January 2019

How rookie MP could end Merkel's long reign

Angela Merkel’s days as German Chancellor could be numbered. Photo: Getty Images
Angela Merkel’s days as German Chancellor could be numbered. Photo: Getty Images

Justin Huggler

The chances are you have never heard of Kevin Kühnert. Until a couple of months ago, few had heard of him in his native Germany.

But this weekend, the 28-year-old political novice could become the man who ends the career of Angela Merkel.

Mr Kühnert is leading a grassroots rebellion in the centre-left Social Democrat Party (SPD) against joining a new coalition under Ms Merkel.

A party vote on the decision this Sunday that was expected to be a formality now looks too close to call. If Mr Kühnert wins, it will plunge Germany into political chaos.

Ms Merkel will have nowhere left to look for a majority and will be left with a choice between new elections or trying to form a minority government. It could be the beginning of the end for the woman who has dominated German politics for more than 12 years.

"He's our Corbyn," Mr Kühnert's supporters proclaimed this week. The comparison is apt on many levels. Like Jeremy Corbyn, he claims to put principle ahead of political expediency. "The SPD will be renewed outside a coalition, or it won't be renewed at all," he has said.

The similarity doesn't end there - as with Mr Corbyn, the 28-year-old heads a grassroots movement that is dramatically at odds with his parliamentary party, where almost all the SPD's MPs back a new coalition with Ms Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU).

"The SPD is the main party of the left in Germany," he told 'Bild', Germany's biggest-selling newspaper. "Its job is to fight for decent work and fair pay, a dependable social system, secure pensions, and social cohesion. It has to do that in opposition to the CDU, not as a corrective at its side."

Famously averse to ties, he made his breakthrough speech at the SPD conference with his shirt half-untucked and tumbling out of his trousers.

'Bild' likes to call Mr Kühnert "baby-face", and he is a political novice, nowhere near challenging for his party's leadership.

He was only elected head of the SPD's youth wing last November, and his political experience amounts to working as an assistant for a member of the Berlin regional parliament, while finishing his studies.

His ideas have not been put to the test in a general election, where his critics say they could lose the SPD a quarter of its votes. But they have struck a chord with party activists furious at the leadership's U-turn over a new coalition with Ms Merkel.

© Daily Telegraph London

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News