Rising star of German left quits SPD youth role to run for parliament

Kate Connolly in Berlin
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters

The head of the youth wing of Germany’s Social Democrats, often cited as a future national leader, has announced he plans to quit his role and run for a seat in parliament.

Kevin Kühnert, a rising star on the left since he passionately campaigned against his party’s decision to re-enter a grand coalition with the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) three years ago, said the “time was right” for new blood to take over the youth wing.

But political commentators are suggesting that far more prominent on the 31-year-old’s mind is the chance he now has to join the more influential political world of the Bundestag, before federal elections scheduled to take place next autumn. Some are even suggesting he is on a trajectory towards taking the top job of chancellor.

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Kühnert has said he is prepared to run for a seat in the south-west Berlin district of Tempelhof-Schöneberg, traditionally held by the Social Democrats (SPD), but which is currently in the hands of the CDU. He is seen to have a good chance to win a direct mandate there.

Kühnert told the Berlin daily Der Tagesspiegel his plans had been “very generously” accepted by the SPD. He is already held in high regard in the party, having led a “NoGroKo” campaign in 2017, rejecting the CDU-SPD coalition. He did not succeed in blocking the deal, but gained many followers in the process, particularly among the party base.

His decision to back the unlikely leftwing duo of Norbert Walter-Borjans and Saskia Esken in last year’s leadership campaign is seen in part to have aided their victory. He rejected calls from the party base for him to run for the post. The two pledged to “lead Germany out of a neoliberal wilderness” and to pressurise Merkel’s administration to put more investment in public services and infrastructure.

In a 2018 Guardian interview, Kühnert said he was ashamed of the fact that by going into government once again, the SPD had paved the way for the far-right Alternative für Deutschland party to become the main opposition party in the Bundestag. He wanted the SPD to be able to rebuild itself as a leftwing force in opposition having suffered historic defeats at several consecutive elections, and seen its membership decline over the past two decades he said.

In the upcoming election campaign, Kühnert will be central to the party’s efforts to claw back support it has lost to the Green party, which could yet beat it to second place.

Named by his parents after the footballer Kevin Keegan, who played for Hamburg SV between 1977 and 1980, Kühnert is a rarity in German politics for being both young and gay.

Despite not being an elected MP, he has made headlines and caused consternation even within his own party, with his demands for the redistribution of wealth in Germany, including the equal sharing of company profits among employees, and a ban on people being able to own property other than where they live.