There’s an election going on in Denmark? Really?
As a resident of the UK you could be forgiven for not knowing, given that both BBC News Online and The Guardian seem to have neglected to cover the announcement this week. In the meantime Comment is Free and Labour Uncut are getting obsessed about who might run for a party that’s not in power in a country and might not win in a country whose elections are still more than a year away.
Anyway, back to Denmark, and why the 15th September election is important.
The centre-right has won three consecutive elections to the Folketing (the Parliament), most recently in 2007. The leading political character of the decade and Prime Minister for those election victories, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, is now off the scene having taken up the position of Secretary General of NATO.
His successor as Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, also from the liberal-right Venstre party has never been able to command the same level of respect as Fogh, and a weak parliamentary alliance with the Conservatives and relying on the support of the populist right wing Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People’s Party) has become embroiled in a series of wrangles, most recently about pensions reform and re-establishment (or not) of customs controls at borders with the EU.
The election is being fought against the backdrop of a stuttering economy (although nowhere near as severe as in some other EU countries), a flat real estate market, increasing inequality in the society over the last decade, and an ongoing fight about the rights and responsibilities of ethnic minorities in Danish society.
At European level, Denmark is not in the Euro, the travails of the Eurozone have not become an election issue, but – symbolically at least – this election is vital for the left in Europe, because after so many crushing election defeats for social democrat parties across the EU, this could be the start of the fightback.
While Løkke has not proven to be a determined leader on the right, the left faces a similar problem. The main centre-left party, the Socialdemokraterne, is led by former MEP Helle Thorning-Schmidt. She is best known in the UK for being Neil Kinnock’s daughter-in-law, while in Denmark her husband’s questionable tax affairs and her love of smart clothes (prompting the nickname Gucci-Helle) have led to questions as to whether she is the right leader for a centre-left party. The Social Democrats’ likely coalition partners – the Socialist People’s Party – are more mainstream and pragmatic than they used to be and this should prove to Thorning-Schmidt’s advantage. A centre-left coalition looks at least as much like a viable government now, something the left failed to achieve against Fogh.
So what’s going to happen? At the moment opinion polls point to a narrow victory for the left, but with Venstre recovering slightly in the polls it is far from a foregone conclusion. It’s too early to determine whether this is going to be the start of a fightback for the European left. I’ll do my best to cover any major election developments on my own blog and my column here on 18th September will cover the result of the election.