After nine years in the House of Representatives, SPD deputy Clara West does not want to run again. One reason: a lack of debate culture in her parliamentary group.
Mobile information stand of Clara West in the 2016 election campaign Photo: imago stock&people
site: Ms. West, has Raed Saleh, the parliamentary group leader of the SPD in the House of Representatives, already tried to change your mind?
Clara West: Not so far. No.
Have you met him personally since your announcement?
Not in person. Only in a telephone exchange. Of course, there’s little opportunity to talk about it.
Two weeks ago you announced that you would not be running for the House of Representatives next year. You wrote on Facebook: "A mandate is not a normal job. It can never be an end in itself. My belief is that it’s always linked to being able to make a difference in a certain role and in certain tasks." Have you not been able to change anything?
For now, I can’t say that at all, but something like this is also always a look into the future. I didn’t want to wait for the moment when I wake up in the morning and realize that I can’t do it anymore or that it’s not going anywhere. I preferred to make the decision beforehand on my own initiative and say: Nothing can stay like this forever, so it’s finite. As the saying goes, you should always leave when it’s at its best.
When did the decision mature in you?
I took my time with it. Toward the beginning of the election period, I decided to take stock after two years, also to find an answer to the question that always comes up: Will you run again? That’s what happened with the decision. But of course, it was also a weighing of the various pros and cons.
born in 1981, won direct mandates in Pankow in 20. West is a budget politician and the parliamentary group’s representative for music and club culture.
When you say you should leave when it’s most beautiful: Was it still beautiful for you? And what role did the parliamentary group chairman play? Along with 13 other deputies, you were among the authors of an open letter to Raed Saleh at the end of 2017. In it, you accused him of an ego trip and of caring too little about the parliamentary group.
My decision was not dependent on any one person. It was also about whether I felt I could contribute new ideas or initiate new projects.
After all, there was a debate in the parliamentary group after the letter, and Raed Saleh vowed to do better.
All in all, I would say that not much has changed. At least not in the way I imagined. The letter was also about how we envision working in the Group. That there should also be more discussions about issues. In other words, more disputes about positions.
And there wasn’t?
There are many urgent questions to which we need to find answers.
Maybe this is a general problem of the SPD. There are many urgent questions to which we need to find answers. We need to set goals again. But that doesn’t come from silent consensus, but from debates on content.
You could have thrown your hat in the ring yourself and run for parliamentary group chairman.
That is correct. But it would have been important to see if we could work something out together. But that was not possible. Even a single candidate would not have helped.
Was the deadlock in the parliamentary group the decisive factor in your decision?
Various factors played a role. There is the situation of the party as a whole. The SPD has a hard time finding new content in debates. Either we avoid these discussions or we have them in the wrong place. I’ve had the feeling for a long time that we’re going around in circles and not getting anywhere.
Now the Berlin SPD is just trying to spread a bit of a spirit of optimism. The state chair is to be newly elected this year, and Franziska Giffey is to form a dual leadership with Raed Saleh. With Giffey as a potential top candidate, the SPD also believes it has a chance of pulling out of its polling slump in the election year. Do you believe in this new beginning?
I admit that after 24 years in the SPD, I don’t get enthusiastic so quickly anymore
I’ll be honest and admit that after 24 years in the SPD, I don’t get enthusiastic very quickly anymore. But I think it’s a good thing to try something new with Franziska Giffey. Now, you could also say that this was a backroom deal. But I don’t see it in such a negative light. When I see how incapable people are in some cases of even talking to each other, then this is a good solution.
You complain that the SPD has a hard time resolving personnel policy decisions amicably. Do you look at the Greens with a little envy? There’s the question of who will be the top candidate, but that’s been settled very quietly so far.
I’m not a fanatic about unity. It always depends on what you’re talking about. Why not make it clear when there are different positions? What’s important is that there’s a discussion process that ultimately leads to a result that we can support together. But it’s difficult to compare the SPD with the Greens.
Because we are at a different point. The SPD is not exactly in an easy starting position. We first have to find a consensus on how to position ourselves in the coming years. That’s not as fundamental for the Greens as it is for us.
For us, it’s still a question of how we can live up to our claim to be a people’s party.
The Greens are in a relatively good position at the moment. For us, it’s still a question of how we can live up to our claim to be a people’s party. In the case of the Greens, the question of who we actually are and what we are needed for is not quite as important as it is for us.
Where do you think the red-red-green coalition stands right now?
We are already falling short of the potential that could be had.
Do you have an example?
There is still room for improvement in terms of cooperation and the development of joint projects. We’ve gotten some good things off the ground, from the rent cap to free school lunches. But often it was all organized individualism. I would like to see us act more like a coalition.
Is the internal climate in the red-red-green coalition better than in your party?
You can’t make a general comparison. In both areas, there are people with whom you work very well; elsewhere, things don’t work out so well.
Would you have liked more support from your district association in Pankow in the past?
In part, yes.
You wanted to become district leader in 2015, but you only got 38.7 percent of the vote.
Since then, I’ve perhaps also no longer had the expectation that everyone in my district would constantly make an effort to support what I’m doing. But I can’t say that my work at the state level was specifically opposed. The district was not a particularly decisive factor in my decision.
Could it be that your decision was made in anticipation of a vote by the district? That you might no longer have been able to run as a direct candidate in your constituency or that you might have been given a bad list position?
You can say a lot of things, but that really didn’t play any role at all at this point. I assume that it would have been very unlikely that anyone would have contested my constituency.
When you look back on nine years in the House of Representatives, where do you think you left the biggest mark?
In terms of issues, above all administrative reform. It’s a broad field, but one for which I’ve developed a certain passion. However, I would have liked to achieve a little more than we have so far. But a lot has been initiated.
The digital file has been postponed until further notice.
I wouldn’t say that. After all, the administrative pact is now in place. A few years ago, the mood was still: we’ll do a little bit here and there. Now we’re taking a more fundamental approach to the issue.
Your partner was attacked and injured at an election rally a few years ago. Politicians are increasingly becoming targets. How is that for you?
As a politician, of course, I’m on the receiving end at all times. That also means that people come down on you in all sorts of ways. There’s been just about everything. There were even threats against my staff, which was very upsetting to me. My office was also regularly attacked, with smashed windows, eggs thrown, paint bags. That gnaws at you. But there is also a lot of encouragement.
You are a qualified teacher by profession. Do you already have a job?
No, but that’s still a long way off. If I send out an application now, I’ll get the answer, "Get back to me next year. But I can rule out a few things.
I’d hate to do something where my current sphere of activity overlaps too much with my future sphere of activity.
So the Sigmar Gabriel principle is out of the question.
Definitely. I hope I don’t ever become like Sigmar Gabriel.