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Whatever happened to the German left?

After 16 years' exile, are Germany's Social Democrats ready to return to national power? They have an elusive programme, a leadership divided between a Blairite and a Jospinite view of social democracy, and two other parties of the left snapping at their heels

When Germany’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) was last ousted from power, in 1982, many SPD politicians believed that their exile would be brief. Was not the new chancellor, Helmut Kohl, a simpleton, a national joke? This sentiment spread well beyond the ranks of Social Democrats; even the conservative Franz Josef Strauss of the Christian Social Union (CSU)-the wholly unprovincial leader of the Christian Democrat’s (CDU) provincial sister party in Bavaria-felt nothing but scorn for Kohl.

But one Social Democrat saw things more clearly. Herbert Wehner, “chief whip” of the SPD parliamentary party and third in the legendary troika with Willy…

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