The British media seem to have commented widely on the Danish general election which took place on the 15th of September 2011, but they seem mainly to have been concerned with the fact that the leader of the Social Democrats, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, is Neil Kinnock’s daughter-in-law, and they have been wondering why her surname isn’t Rasmussen like all other prime ministers for the past 18 years.
However, there are some real points of interest that I think are worth highlighting.
First a little bit of history: Denmark has generally had many (8-10) parties represented in parliament at any one time, and most governments have therefore been minority coalitions. For instance, from 1982 to 1993 Poul Schlüter led a series of centre-right governments consisting of the Conservatives, the Liberals and one or two centre parties; from 1993 to 2001, Poul Nyrup Rasmussen led a series of centre-left governments consisting of the Social Democrats, the Social Liberals and sometimes of a few more centre parties; and from 2001 to 2009, Anders Fogh Rasmussen led a right-wing government consisting of the Liberals and the Conservatives. However, whereas the governments in the 1980s and 1990s tended to make deals with various parties, Anders Fogh (and his successor, Lars Løkke Rasmussen) almost exclusively ruled with the support of the far-right Danish People’s Party. (It would be a bit as if the UK had been ruled by a Con-Lib coalition in the 80s, by a Lab-Lib coalition in the 90s, and by a Conservative government dependent on UKIP votes after 2001.)
The fact that there were so few deals made across the political centre meant that the left-wing parties and the Social Liberals started to be seen as one monolithic construct, the so-called “red block”. Within this, the Social Democrats and the Socialists were from 2007 to 2011 far bigger than the Post-Communists and the Social Liberals (45 and 23 seats compared to 9 and 4), so they decided to make a joint manifesto and tell the others they’d just have to support it.
This angered the Social Liberals, and a few months ago they made a hugely important deal with the government about raising the retirement age, in direct opposition to the red-block manifesto. This was hugely popular with the voters, who also seemed to dislike the way the Socialists were adopting all of the Social Democrats’ ideas in their quest for power: The Social Liberals went from 9 to 17 seats, the Post-Communists from 4 to 12, while the Social Democrats dropped from 45 to 44 (their worst result for a century!) and the Socialists from 23 to 16. Adding on the three left-of-centre MPs from Greenland and the Faroe Islands, that makes for a majority, albeit a slender one. On the right-hand side, the Liberals had a good election, going from 46 to 47, while the Conservatives fell from 18 to 8, the Danish People’s Party went from 25 to 23, and the Liberal Alliance went up from 5 to 9.
So the political situation is that the prime minister had a good election but had to resign, while the leader of the opposition had a bad election but will become prime minister.
However, the idea that the red-block manifesto can be enacted is now dead. It is not yet clear whether the next government will consist of just the Social Democrats and the Socialists, or whether they will include the Social Liberals in the government, but it’s very clear that there are many ideas in the manifesto that the Social Liberals and the Post-Communists won’t accept. For a start, the retirement-age reform will stand as the parties behind it (the Social Liberals, the Liberals, the Conservatives and the DPP) still have a majority, which completes undermines the Social Democrats’ big idea of the election campaign, which was increasing working hours by 12 minutes a day.
The Social Democrats can of course try to govern with other parties, but there aren’t many constellations that can be relied on most of the time.
It’s probably most likely that the government won’t last very long, and that there will be a new election sooner rather than later.