New parties key to Denmark election result?

The Denmark election is taking place today with polls on a knife-edge. A Gallup poll late last night had the centre-left bloc, led by incumbent prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, narrowly trailing the centre-right bloc, led by the man Thorning-Schmidt ousted from the premiership in the 2011 election, Lars Løkke Rasmussen.

Just as was the case with the shock Conservative victory in last month’s UK general election, it would be rash to jump to simplistic conclusions (or indeed predict the election outcome), not least because these polls certainly do not present a cut-and-dry case for ‘Thorning-Schmidt bad, Rasmussen good’.

The Gallup poll projects that Thorning-Schmidt’s governing Social Democrats will actually gain two seats and narrowly increase its vote tonight (a parallel of sorts with former UK Labour leader Ed Miliband, who has had to deal with the paradox of suffering the most devastating defeat for his party in 32 years whilst being the first person to increase the Labour share of the vote in 18 years).

Helle Thorning-Schmidt

Helle Thorning-Schmidt

At the same time, Rasmussen’s Venstre Parti is set to post what in any normal circumstances would be an exceptionally bad result. Having suffered the indignity of coming third in last year’s European elections, they are projected to lose ten seats on the basis of this Gallup poll. Within the right-wing bloc at least, the party with all the momentum behind it is the Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People’s Party), who are pursuing the same populist right-wing agenda that has served them well at the polls for several years. The Gallup poll projects that they will win ten seats.

Although there is evidence that anti-establishment politics is gaining traction in Denmark, I would argue that this is not borne out by the standing of the People’s Party itself. Having played a key role within the right-wing coalition that governed Denmark between 2001 and 2011, it seems more establishment than anti-establishment, not least when its views on the EU and immigration are not exactly unconditionally rejected and repelled by Thorning-Schmidt herself. 

The ‘anti-establishment’ zeitgeist seems better represented by the Alternative Party, a green political party that has nonetheless remained coy about saying whether it does ‘left or right’ politics (although it is technically part of the Thorning-Schmidt bloc going into tonight’s election). The party itself dates back to 2013, but Gallup projects that it will pick up eight seats tonight (having of course not won any mandates in 2011). Perhaps on the evidence of the Wiki description, ‘green entrepreneurship’ would describe its ethos better.

Similarly, the Liberal Alliance, formed as recently as 2007, and part of Rasmussen’s centre-right bloc going into the election, are projected to gain four seats – even though the Danish Wiki page seems to bear out concerns that it is rather light on policy, its commitment to EU membership notwithstanding.

Although the new parties seem key to the election result, it is difficult not to come to the conclusion that anti-immigrant and anti-EU sentiments are defining the political debate in Denmark, irrespective of who wins. The worrying aspect for the left must be the projected retreat of the minor parties within the centre-left bloc, with the pro-immigration Danish Social Liberal Party projected to lose the eight seats it gained in 2011 and the Socialist People’s Party projected to lose seven seats, just as it did in 2011. This may be the most potent factor with regards to the overall result as voters go to the polls today.

If Thorning-Schmidt does hang on, there may well be a sense that she has scrambled over the finishing line with no particular momentum for the left, with the main story a direct net switch from the Venstre party to the Danish People’s Party and not enough voters defecting from the left bloc to the right bloc.

That was more or less the pattern of last year’s election in Sweden, when support for Fredrik Reinfeldt’s ruling Moderate party collapsed and the right-wing populist Sweden Democrats benefited. The Social Democrats, under the much-vaunted leadership of Stefan Löfven, had seemed certain to gain power, but their vote barely increased and they barely got over the finishing line (or indeed didn’t at all given that they had to form a minority coalition with the Greens which barely made it through last year and into this one in one piece).

Stefan Löfven - unconvincing victor in Sweden last year

Stefan Löfven – unconvincing victor in Sweden last year

Unlike the UK, the question of exit from the EU seems less potent in Denmark (for now, at least). But a recent piece in the German press suggesting that the direct train connection between Berlin and Copenhagen is in jeopardy seems in some way symbolic of Denmark’s predicament at the moment. It is part of the EU, unlike Greece it is not in a state of financial crisis that threatens its very presence in the European project, and under the Social Democrats unemployment has gone down somewhat since the nadir of the 2008 financial crisis (belying concerns that immigrants pose a threat to actual job availability).

For all that, Denmark looks curiously detached and wary of the outside world, even in a decade where numerous countries look detached and wary of the outside world. That’s a particularly big irony at a time when Danish televised drama has once more its best to conquer the televised drama world with 1864, a series which seems to resist jingoism and parochialism with every ounce of its conception and realisation.

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