Michael Strange – The Guardian
In Denmark’s elections, the far right fell and socially-conscious parties surged. Let’s hope it’s a litmus test for Europe
The Social Democrats’ electoral victory in Denmark was by no means surprising, and in many ways feels like the regular cycle of politics. Yet the result, which saw the coalition of leftwing parties win 52.1% of the vote compared with 41% for their rightwing adversaries, embodies a series of developments with a wider significance for Europe as a whole.
Once the result of Wednesday’s elections was known, the Social Democrat leader, Mette Frederiksen, reiterated two of her party’s key electoral promises – that they want to put welfare back at the centre of the Danish model, and that they will place strict controls on refugees and asylum seekers. That last position has become common globally, and within Frederiksen’s party it was seen as a pragmatic necessity if they were to win votes from what had been, back in the 2015 election, Denmark’s second largest party – the Danish People’s party (DPP).
The DPP has always been something of a paradox, given that it appeals to many of the working-class voters who were once the Social Democrats’ base, has frequently put welfare at the centre of its campaigning, but has supported a series of rightwing governments that have radically curtailed the Danish model. The strategy of “winning back” voters from the DPP by adopting many of their positions on refugees and migration seems to have paid off. Several factors support this initial reading. The big news of the election was that the DPP lost more than half its seats, decimating their influence and plunging the party into a crisis it might not survive.
Yet the Danish election becomes more interesting if we take into consideration a series of other results. First, the Social Democrats gained only one seat, and saw a 0.4% drop in their share of the national vote. Second, the leftwing coalition includes four other parties – two of which doubled their number of seats – that have run campaigns advocating humanitarianism and will, in many cases, find themselves opposing the Social Democrats. Frederiksen’s election-night speech pledged that her party would form a minority government, something both unusual and rarely sustainable within the coalition politics of the proportionally elected Danish Folketinget.
The combined votes of the other leftwing parties (the Red-Green Alliance, Alternative, Radical Left, and the Socialist People’s party) equal those of the Social Democrats. Given their success, while it might be fairly assumed that many DPP voters have been won over to the Social Democrats, the maths shows a different story in which there has been a massive swing to pro-humanitarian parties.
Denmark is one of those blessed countries which through a mixture of good planning, alliances, geography and luck is often at the top end of many international indicators of social and economic wellbeing. It is also, as a developed small country, observed alongside others like New Zealand as a test-ground for new politics and policies. Perhaps tellingly, one of the campaign slogans used by the DPP in this election to dissuade voters from supporting the leftwing parties was “Det er ikke tid til eksperimenter” (“It is not the time to experiment”). Yet, as one of the most successful and earliest rightwing populist parties, the DPP has been just that – an experiment, to test the electoral chances and strategy of an anti-immigrant party.
At first glance, the fact that the Social Democrats have adopted similar policies suggests the DPP has been successful, even if the party itself now faces decline. Yet with a reduced share of the vote and only one more seat, the Social Democrats’ victory owes much more to the rise in pro-humanitarian parties within the Danish Folketinget combined with the DPP’s collapse.
The crash in support for the DPP is due to many factors, but arguably a key explanation was the alienation of its working-class voters by its continuing support for a series of rightwing governments that rolled back pension and social protections, as well as its parliamentary backing for policies that contradicted the welfare claims made in its campaigns. The party managed to survive through its anti-immigrant rhetoric, which drowned out more serious media scrutiny of its wider role in the Folketinget.
Losing more than half its seats means the DPP’s leadership no longer has the authority it once had – and while the latest elections have seen four seats go to a new anti-immigrant party, Nye Borgerlige, as an experiment, the fate of the Danish People’s party and the rise of pro-humanitarian parties has been shown to be worth taking note of.
- Michael Strange is a senior lecturer in global political studies at Malmö University in Sweden