Helle Thorning-Schmidt – the real-life left-leaning first female Prime Minister of Denmark – has one big problem: she’s not Birgitte Nyborg, the fictional left-leaning first female Prime Minister of Denmark. And that just might be fatal to her government and her political career.
Nyborg – the heroine of the political drama Borgen –unexpectedly becomes Prime Minister after an election that her party, the left-of-centre Moderates, never expected to win, manages to finish a shocking first in. Thorning-Schmidt became Prime Minister after an election that she and the Social Democrats were expected to walk. But, in a campaign in which she and her husband, Stephen Kinnock, were dogged with questions about their tax arrangements, the Social Democrats actually lost seats, finishing behind their old enemy, the governing Liberals. She only became Prime Minister because the so-called ‘blue block’ of right-wing parties did badly overall. Despite a bullish victory speech, in which she told supporters that she had ‘written history’, the trauma of the election has made the Social Democratshesitant, with both the Socialists to the left, and the Social Liberals to the right, wagging the Social Democratic dog.
Nyborg’s three-party coalition has a mostly reliable Parliamentary majority. Thorning-Schmidt’s three-party coalition – comprising her Social Democratic party, the Socialist Party, and the centrist Social Liberals –however, is one short of a majority, and like the right before her, has had to rely on the support of votes ‘from outside’. But whereas the far-right People’s Party was a reliable supporter of the two Rasmussens, extreme-left Red-Green Alliance has been a far less reliable partner. Henrik Sass Larsen, a senior Social Democrat MP, summed up the frustrations of the Coalition parties in an interview with the Danish newspaper Politiken,explaining:
“We can not get all of our politics through with them because they won’t sign as soon as things start to hurt a little. And this is the problem: you can’t run [the country] on fantasy billions.”
But, with the support of the Red-Green Alliance a necessary evil, the Government has been left looking weak and rudderless, much to the profit of the right-wing Liberal Party. Former Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen’s departing broadside that Thorning-Schmidt was ‘only borrowing’ the keys to Marienborg, the Prime Minister’s residence, no longer looks like bravado. The Liberals now outpoll the coalition parties’ combined vote-share, despite a strong economic picture. It was frustration with the Red-Green Alliance, and a need to make reforms to the Danish welfare state, that led to the three Coalition parties making a deal with the Liberals to pass a tax package that increased tax credits and lowered corporation tax, much to the dismay of the Red-Green Alliance.
The problem is, while the deal itself gave the Coalition parties something to cheer about it, it may have come at a fatal cost. “We are in opposition,” announced Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen, the de facto leader of the Red-Green Alliance, while the Liberals have no intention of prolonging the Social Democrats’ stay in office if they can help it. An autumn election – and a return to power for the Right – look likely. What, now, could save Thorning-Schmidt?
Perversely, her tax affairs, which contributed to the poor result of 2011, could lead to a Social Democratic recovery in 2012. It is against Danish law to reveal the tax affairs of an individual, and, with the governing Liberals the most likely beneficiaries of the revelations about Thorning-Schmidt’s domestic arrangements, suspicion fell on the Liberals. A televised inquiry – Leveson with rye bread – is due to begin this summer. If the inquiry does reveal foul play from the Liberals, then that could be enough to save Thorning-Schmidt.
This Week’s European Talking Points
- Guess who’s back? It’s Silvio Berlusconi, plotting another tilt at the top job. The scandal-riddenseptuagenarian is the most successful Italian politician of the post-war period, but surely even he can’t fight time, a damaged reputation, and an almost complete breakdown of his relationship with the right-wing Lega Nord party? Could he? With next year’s election’s essentially a bid for a second term by the left-leaning Democrats, Silvio might be able to capitalise on ‘Monti-fatigue’, but even so, it’s a big ask. In part, though, his Freedom Party – the latest in a succession of Berlusconi political vehicles – will almost certainly have to turn to him because they have precious little else to rely on.”We have no-one better than Berlusconi,” said loyalist Freedom MP Daniela Santache, “For months I’ve been saying that he is our best candidate.”
- Trierwallergate rumbles on. After the new First Lady’s Tweet endorsing the independent candidate Oliver Falorni helped to bury Segolene Royale in La Rochelle, French daily Le Monde described it as an ‘existential crisis’ for Valerie Trierwaller, and nowFrancois Hollande’s son, Thomas, has piled in. “It [the Tweet] destroyed the normal image [my father] had constructed,” Thomas told reporters, before suggesting some new ground rules for Mme. Trierwaller, “Either she’s a journalist, or she has an office at the Elysée … and, above all, no more tweets.”. Expect this one to run and run.
- Spain’s miners are marching to Madrid to protest the Rajoy government’s cuts to mining subsidies. Some will walk almost three hundred miles to reach the Spanish capital. “People hear and see us on the roads,” miner Jose Gomez explained to the BBC, “It’s a way of keeping in people’s minds, so we can take back what is ours.”