It’s agurketid, the Danish equivalent of Silly Season. Though the rest of the world is increasingly coming to resemble an Hieronymus Bosch painting, in Denmark domestic news is on hiatus. The Danes have embarked upon their annual reverse hibernation, migrating – like wildebeest: en masse and largely in the same direction – in their Peugeots and Skodas, the trunks stocked with remoulade and pickled beetroot.
This includes the politicians too, of course, who head off to summer houses on Jutland’s west coast (Danish People’s Party - DF), villas in Tuscany (Social Democrats and Venstre), or a telephone box on Livø (Socialist People’s Party). Hence the dearth of domestic news stories: the goings on at Christiansborg making up roughly 85 percent of all Danish news.
So I thought I would take this opportunity to help you, as a bewildered foreigner, get up to speed on the often perplexing, occasionally peculiar and densely populated Danish political landscape.
Denmark certainly would seem to have an excess of politicians. The place is lousy with them. There are 179 members of parliament, and twelve parties (although this includes single member parties representing Greenland and the Faroes plus a couple of oddballs we needn’t worry about here).
That works out at one MP for every 32,000 people, compared to one for every 68,000 in Britain. Why so many? A Danish friend offers this plausible explanation: “Because we couldn’t find them jobs anywhere else.”
And what of the parties? I call them ‘parties’, but in truth the tribes of Christiansborg are more akin to schoolyard cliques which distinguish themselves only by minuscule nuances in dress - different coloured wristbands or sneaker logos - invisible to the untutored observer. It is certainly true that, compared to their British, French or American peers, Danish politicians are paragons of probity and integrity, but they are also rather lacking in individuality. Apart from the odd super-earnest sixth-form Marxist or gimlet-eyed right-wing psycho, their policies are mostly indistinguishable, their rhetoric repetitive. So here’s a helpful overview.
Currently in power, albeit watching the sands rapidly dwindle from the ministerial limo-shaped hour glass, are the Social Democrats, gamely supported by the Social Liberals (Radikale Venstre) - the Socialist People’s Party having withdrawn their support for the government earlier this year without anyone noticing.
Confusingly for innocent bystanders, the Social Democrats, led by the selfie-loving Helle Thorning-Schmidt, have spent this stint in power having to impose the kind of policies their rivals, Venstre, tended to favour but never somehow, you know, got round to actually implementing: trimming the public sector, tightening up on benefits, reducing corporation tax, shunning the green lobby, and so on. The policies of the two main parties are now virtually identical, to the extent that not one single Dane has been able to explain to me why the current finance minister, Bjarne Corydon, is not a Venstre politician.
The Social Liberals are led by Margrethe Vestager, who exudes the kind of moderate reasonableness which you would think would play extremely well with Danes, but somehow never seems to translate into votes beyond Østerbro.
Back to Venstre (which, equally confusingly, translates as ‘left’, even though the party is right-of-centre), and its pugnacious leader Lars Løkke Rasmussen - he of the First Class flights scandal; the falling asleep during a rather prominent international climate conference while chairman scandal; and the free underpants scandal. Enough to topple most leaders, but not Lars. Lars could sell Bornholm to the Swedes, use the proceeds to replace the Little Mermaid with a statue of himself made out of ham then goose the Queen at the unveiling, and still win the next election.
… at least, he would if it wasn’t for the dark horse of Danish politics, DF’s Kristian Thulesen Dahl, a man with a Warren Beatty-esque ability to locate the Danish electorate’s G-spot and tickle their prejudices and fears. Indeed, given his matinee idol appeal to public sector workers, the elderly and those on benefits (i.e. virtually the entire population, aside from the oily Strandvej estate agent off of that show on TV2, and ‘rappers’ Nik og Jay), it is not entirely beyond the realms of possibility that he could be Denmark’s next prime minister.
Thulesen Dahl might be inadvertently aided in this by the left wing Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten), ‘led’ by the [insert non-gender specific adjective here] Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen, which has been harvesting voters from SD for some years now. I say ‘led’, but Enhedslisten would never, ever promote a sexy-hot young female to such a position of hierarchical oppression as ‘leader’. No, Schmidt-Nielsen is merely some kind of unusually prominent and photogenic spokesperson. And a damn fine job she is doing of it too.
Anders Samuelsen and Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen. Photos: Jens Dresling, Anthon Unger/Polfoto
The polar opposite of Enhedslisten is Liberal Alliance, the only party which has consistently advocated decreasing taxes, largely funded by Saxo Bank’s Ayn Rand-loving boss Lars Seier Christensen. Oddly, given its tax stance, LA has never made it into double figures in the polls. The Anders Samuelsen-led party is currently at around 5 percent, admittedly ahead of the Conservatives (honestly, I’ve tried to find out what they’re for, but so far drawn a blank), and the Christian Democrats (erm, nope, you got me), but still some way from controlling the purse strings.
Of course, when you mention the spectre of a DF prime minister, the candidate himself – and just about everyone else – scoffs at the idea.
Then again, they laughed at Margaret Thatcher, they laughed at Berlusconi, and they howled at George W Bush.
And no one’s laughing now.
Michael Booth is the author of The Almost Nearly Perfect People: The Truth About the Nordic Miracle available now on Amazon and is a regular contributor to publications including the Guardian and Monocle.