Sebastien Ash born in 1993, is a political journalist from Britain. He lives in London and works at the BBC in Westminster, where he is currently mainly involved in Brexit. Ash is a guest at the SPIEGEL in Hamburg and Berlin for two months on the "George Weidenfeld Journalism Fellowship."
As a political journalist from Britain, it is both a disaster and a relief not to experience the new elections in the UK on the ground. On the one hand, the election campaign will certainly be exciting and its result will be an adjustment for the country. But because of the dispute over the Brexit, he will also be very hard and dirty. I like to forgo this stress.
While the election campaign is raging in my home country, I am in Germany. Here I can observe another election: that of the new SPD party chairmanship by the members. On Tuesday I watched the second duel between Olaf Scholz and Klara Geywitz as well as Saskia Esken and Norbert Walter-Borjans. Many expected a boring evening, but I found the duel to be very enlightening.
There is Little Between Leave and Remain
Both the politicians on stage and the journalists in the Willy-Brandt-Haus felt that society was divided, that politics had been unable to do anything about it, and the SPD was weak. The first question proved this consensus. "Against the background of the last state elections, it is striking that the party landscape has become very polarized," said the moderator. "Confidence in democracy is dwindling, what is happening in our society right now?"
"This is a correct analysis," said Olaf Scholz. "I think we have to take a bigger view, but what happens here in Germany happens in other countries as well." Scholz referred to Great Britain and the Brexit decision.
I do not find the comparison very accurate.
While there is some dissatisfaction in Germany – I do not doubt it – it is not nearly as big as in the UK. There, the political landscape is sorted according to opinion on Brexit new. Surveys show that voters feel more connected to their Brexit attitude than to a party. Between Leave and Remain, Brexit or not, there is little left. The British people are diametrically opposed and argue about the issue in the lower house and now in the election campaign.
A lively but polite debate
In contrast, Germany is controlled by the political center, with the help of the SPD. Olaf Scholz is also at the wheel. Before the debate I read and heard about a supposedly uncharismatic Minister of Finance, as if that would be a huge disadvantage. But the man was combative. Scholz and his co-deputies were prepared in detail and staunchly defended their views. The debate was lively but also polite.
This kind of debate is slowly disappearing in Britain. Admittedly, the British House of Commons has always been a bit livelier. But today the mood is poisoned. A debate in which Boris Johnson dismissed the experiences of a Labor MP with hate comments on social media as "humbug" was particularly controversial.
Things are not much better within the parties. I wrote to SPIEGEL in early November that many British MPs are resigning because the atmosphere is so toxic. They describe the dispute over Brexit as a turning point.
On the evening of the SPD debate, the four politicians talked about taxes, pensions and unsafe jobs. That may sound boring. Even their answers to the problems did not turn out to be overly straining, their solutions are often simply described as "social democratic", which is a bit empty of content.
But they are relevant topics. For me it's refreshing to hear politicians talking about real issues, and that's pretty thoughtful. The task of politics is just that: finding solutions to everyday problems.
When Politicians Wish to Reconcile
The same issues also play a role in British politics, but they are repressed in the news of Brexit. Before the election of the new Tory party leader and prime minister in June, the candidates debated about the economy, taxes and migration. In fact, the election campaign but decided only on Brexit. Rory Stewart entered the race with apparently radical reason for Brexit. Boris Johnson with the opposite. He promised " do or " – make or die – to leave the EU on October 31st. He has broken his promise by now.
Brexit is not an insignificant topic, but it is abstract and highly controversial. The German Grundrente or the further existence of the GroKo is not discussed in the same indomitable tone as the Brexit in Great Britain. As far as I've heard, nobody says "out of the GroKo, do or the ". If you see it as positive, you can call a lack of determination also a willingness to compromise. It can also be a strength, especially if politicians want to reconcile after a dispute.
Two debates will take place next week: the third duel in the SPD run-off election and the first in the British election campaign between Boris Johnson and Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn. Take a look at both and compare for yourself.
One of them will be much more relaxed. One thing is clear to me: the situation of the SPD could be worse.