A new Danish government was formed on October 3rd, consisting of three parties: It is led by the Social Democrats – the other participants are the Liberal Democrats (”Det Radikale Venstre”) and the Socialist People’s Party – SF. Enhedslisten/the Red-Green Alliance (RGA) is a supporting (tolerating) party, which the government depends on to be formed, but the RGA does not have to approve the government programme.
This article was written three days before these latest developments: An overview of the political programme of the new government shows that there will hardly be any change in economic policies, due to the heavy influence of the neoliberal centrist party the Liberal Democrats, who in their economic policy are close to the former right-wing government. The government will very probably look to the right in the Folketing (parliament), where there is a majority of alliance partners on these issues. On the other hand there are very good prospects in the government programme for progressive changes with regard to immigration and refugee policies and especially climate and environmental policies.
The parliamentary elections in Denmark on September 15 meant a reversal of the political situation of the last ten years, when the right-wing government – supported by the extreme right-wing Danish People’s Party – was ousted.
The elections also made history in other ways: For the first time a Danish government will have a female Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the leader of the Social Democrats (SD); and for the first time the Socialist People’s Party (SF) will be in government.
In the last few days before the elections the race between the two political blocs became extremely close – and the result of the elections materialised with a very narrow victory for the opposition parties.
After over a year with a clear majority for the opposition parties, this was a surprise. Furthermore, opinion polls after the elections show that the gap between the two blocs has narrowed even more!
In still more ways than these, these elections were surprising:
Below is a table showing the number of seats the parties had in the Folketing (Danish parliament) after the elections (with the 2007 elections shown in brackets):
Percentage voting: 86.53%
Parties Votes % Seats
Enhedslisten 236,860 6.7% 12
(The Red-Green Alliance) (74,982) (2.2%) (4)
Socialistisk Folkeparti 326,192 9.2% 16
(Socialist People’s Party) (450,975) (13.0%) (23)
Socialdemokratiet 879,615 24.8% 44
(Social Democrats) (881,037) (25.5%) (45)
Det Radikale Venstre 336,698 9.5% 17
(Liberal Democrats) (177,161) (5.1%) (9)
Kristendemokraterne 28,070 0.8% 0
(Christian Democrats) (30,013) (0.9%) (0)
Liberal Alliance 176,585 5% 9
(Liberal Alliance) (97,295) (2.8%) (5)
Det Konservative Folkeparti 175,043 4.9% 8
(Conservative Party) (359,404) (10.4%) (18)
Venstre 947,725 26.7% 47
(the Liberal Party) (908,472) (26.2%) (46)
Dansk Folkeparti 436,726 12.3% 22
(Danish People’s Party) (479,532) (13.9%) (25)
Outside the parties 1,850 0.1%
The Faroe Islands 2
It seems that the two parties winning the elections – the Liberal Democrats and the Red-Green Alliance – were also those with a clear profile and clear talk in the election campaign. This apparently attracted quite a number of voters. As to policy, the two parties are close when it comes to immigration and refugees, but vastly different in terms of economic and labour-market policies. In the matter of immigration and refugees the Social Democrats and SF are closer to the previous right-wing government.
The main problem with the negotiations taking place right now (at the end of September) is of course that the Social Democrats and SF have been decimated and depend on the seats of both the Liberal Democrats and the Red-Green Alliance to form a government. In principle they have to span the policies and interests of both parties, but aim to form a government together with the Liberal Democrats, who have a huge influence after their electoral gains.
Interestingly during the electoral campaign the Liberal Democrats formed an alliance with the Conservatives to support each other in the future and bridge the so-called gap of blocs in the Danish parliament, which we have experienced for the last ten years. However, with the losses of the Conservatives this alliance has been made superfluous. On the other hand, it clearly benefitted the Liberal Democrats in the elections.
These elections show a deep polarisation in Danish society. But they also show that working people in greater numbers were attracted to the left than previously during the ten years of right-wing government. However, they voted for opposition parties other than those expected just a couple of years ago.
The elections have caused a dilemma for the SD/SF partnership. For some years (since 2007) many voters (most probably public sector workers due to labour unrest in 2007-08) appeared attracted to SD and SF, when both parties, but SF in particular, had a huge increase in support according to the opinion polls. This coincided with the two parties’ new close partnership. However, the recent elections show a setback for both parties – in the case of SF to far below the party’s 2007 electoral result.
There has certainly been a growing disaffection with the SD/SF close partnership and their policies – which has especially hurt SF, since the partnership has more or less been based on the terms and policies of the Social Democrats. At the same time the SD/SF partnership has had a muddled profile, which made it difficult for the voters to see any clear distinction between their policies and that of the previous right-wing government. SD/SF had more progressive social policies and also proposed public investment to create jobs. But in many cases (e.g. immigration and refugees, defence) the two parties accepted the policies of the previous government.
With the SD/SF partnership no longer new and untested, it is natural that leftwing supporters of SF would eventually drift to the left – i.e. to the Red-Green Alliance. Other SF supporters may have turned to the Liberal Democrats, who also have a clear profile, for example, on the treatment of immigrants and refugees.
The Red-Green Alliance had expected an increase in support in these elections. The opinion polls even before the elections had predicted they would at least double their seats in parliament. But that they tripled to 12 seats was clearly a big surprise.
This huge support can be explained in many ways – besides a very obvious one: growing disaffection with SF policies. However, the rise in RGA votes can be observed all over the country – showing that a contributing factor must also be a high level of general anger and distress with the policies of the right-wing government over the past ten years. The Red-Green Alliance seemed to voice this very well. The candidate who probably did this best during the election campaign was Johannne Schmidt-Nielsen, a young female MP of the Red-Green Alliance and leading figure in the election campaign. She became extremely popular and did extremely well – in fact achieved the second largest number of personal votes in the elections (more personal votes than Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the Prime Minister to be confirmed).
Apart from this the Red-Green Alliance has worked very hard to overcome the disastrous defeat in the last parliamentary elections in November 2007.
The Red-Green Alliance made very clear during the electoral campaign that a vote for them would strengthen the possibility of a “red government” – i.e. one without the Liberal Democrats. It was also made clear that the party would not participate in a coming government but would support it with its seats. This is the political line of the party, adopted at its Annual Congress. There are policies of the SD/SF partnership for which the Red-Green Alliance cannot assume any responsibility without breaking with key policies of its own organisations.
The party stuck to a radical left line during the campaign: a clear defence of the social rights of working people, against reducing and abolishing early retirement and raising the pension age and opposing the consistent deterioration of the rules regulating unemployment benefits, policies of the previous government, and for a radical climate plan investing in new green jobs, and decent asylum and other policies relating to immigrants and refugees.
But the party is well aware that many voters supporting the party in the elections are not supporters of its policies. Many were motivated by an urge simply to oppose the previous government. They most likely have little familiarity with the details of RGA policies. There is thus a big job ahead to work at convincing these voters that they did the right thing and to keep them informed. This also depends on the concrete results of the Red-Green Alliance in future Danish politics.