New parties vie for political breakthrough

Two new political parties are trying to break through to Christiansborg. While one has failed to arouse columnist Michael Booth's interest with its bland talk of sustainability and innovation, the other's attempt to rebrand Danishness and change perceptions of immigrants has captured his interest.

New parties vie for political breakthrough
National Party leader Kashif Ahmad. Photo: Linda Kastrup/Scanpix
Denmark has two new political parties. “Two MORE?” I hear you cry. Aren’t they a little surplus to requirements, what with the eight or so we already have? The plot lines of Borgen were complicated enough as it was.
Apparently not.
The first of the new parties is The Alternative (Alternativet). Its leader is former Social Liberals (Radikale) culture minister, Uffe Elbæk, who still has his seat in parliament despite, let’s say, a ‘bumpy ride’ in the last couple of years and never having ever said anything of any consequence ever (at least not on those occasions I have heard him speak – maybe he saves the juicy stuff for when I’m not listening). The party is actually almost a year old now but has only just gotten around to telling us what they stand for: turns out they want more ‘sustainability’. 
With all of the greenwashing that goes on in Christiansborg and other Danish public institutions, you could be forgiven for wondering whether another voice arguing for more of the same is really necessary, but The Alternative wants Denmark to be properly sustainable and to drop its economic growth targets, for instance. With courageous disregard for controversy, they have also said that they want more ‘entrepreneurship’ and ‘innovation’.
Oh yes, and the party also wants Danish politicians to be nicer to each other.
So there’s them.
The second new party is potentially more interesting. This is the National Party (Nationalpartiet), founded by three brothers, Kashif, Asif and Aamer Ahmad. Their aim is to shift the political discourse about – and perceptions of – immigrants. They want to change the way ‘indvandrere’ are portrayed by politicians and the media as either criminals, welfare tourists, or religious extremists. They want to paint a more accurate picture of a group of people who are vital to the economy of this country and who generally came to Denmark (or whose parents came to Denmark) because they appreciated those once traditional, Danish values of tolerance, mutual respect and openness.
As student Andreas Melson Gregersen wrote so forcefully in an opinion column in Politiken last week: “I am tired of living in a country which pisses all over international conventions … I am tired of living in a country where I no longer feel able to be proud of my Danishness because racist cowards have taken a patent on being Danish.”
The National Party might be the party for Andreas. I don’t know enough about them to offer my endorsement (for what that would be worth) but certainly, they are right to highlight the “racist undertone in the debate” about foreigners in Denmark, and they are right to call out Venstre, for instance, for attempting to categorise Western and non-Western immigrants into A and B teams, one being more welcome than the other.
Hopefully the National Party will raise awareness of the fact that, in 2014, Danes come in all colours and creeds, and that the vast majority of them want to live here in peace and prosperity while abiding by Danish laws and ways of living. They are here because they cherish traditional Danish values and because they were led to believe that Denmark was one of the most advanced and tolerant countries in the world.
At a time when the Swedish controversialist, Dan Park, and his childishly provocative works of art can generate limitless media coverage about notions of ‘free speech’, it seems to me that the National Party are needed more than ever to balance a debate which has long ago loosened its moorings on reality. Perhaps this is a good time for a refresher on the concept of free speech. Say anything you want, but don’t deliberately set out to grossly offend people’s sincerely held religious beliefs, and don’t incite violence. Mutual respect and good manners usually cover most eventualities, I find.
I sincerely hope that the National Party bring a little balance to the discussion, but they must gather 20,000 signatures to be allowed to take part in the next election. As long as the Danish media insists on referring to the three Ahmad brothers as ‘Pakistani’, they will have an uphill task.
Dear Politiken, Berlingske, DR and… erm, The Local. The Ahmads are not Pakistani. They were born in Denmark.
They are, of course, Danish. 
Michael BoothMichael 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

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In defence of Helle Thorning-Schmidt

She's been hammered by critics and already seemingly written off in the next election, but political commentator David Trads says Helle Thorning-Schmidt has delivered the goods while in office and deserves another term.

In defence of Helle Thorning-Schmidt
Under Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Denmark has performed better than most European countries, the author argues. Photo: Thomas Lekfeldt/Scanpix
I have not historically been a big fan of Helle Thorning-Schmidt. When she ran for the chairmanship of the Social Democrats in 2005, I preferred her rival. When she first ran for prime minister in 2007 I thought she was visionless. And when she became prime minister in 2011, she seemed strangely unprepared. 
But today – after she’s been at the helm for three years – I see a positive picture. 
She has delivered where it matters: a better economy, better growth, higher employment, stronger exports and competition and better environmental policies. 
The results are better than those seen elsewhere in the EU and better than those that Lars Løkke Rasmussen, her predecessor and current favourite to win the next election, delivered when he was in charge. 
There was a good reason behind the fact that the prime minister was incredibly close to getting a EU top job over the summer: under her leadership, Denmark is simply doing better than most countries. 
The centre-left has proven to be the prime minister’s worst enemy for the simple reason that they have spent an incredible amount of effort criticising, scolding and sulking. I myself have been guilty of this. 
It’s as if the coalition of the Socialist People’s Party, the Red-Green Alliance (Enhedlisten), the labour unions, youth parties and left-wing journalists would rather see the conservative parties with the next election. 
It is a time-honoured political reality that the centre-left always views the sitting Social Democrats’ party head as a fool, a visionless class traitor that should be replaced by someone else. 
But why don’t the chorus of critics ever rejoice over the progress that the Social Democrats have achieved despite facing a conservative majority?
Thorning-Schmidt has repeatedly admitted that while her performance may not have always been top-notch, she would prefer to be judged on her results. 
That’s a fair request and therefore it is worth documenting the truly remarkable results she has achieved:
The economy: The financial policies carried out by the government are paying off. The budgets have been so strong that Denmark now belongs among the international elite. In Standard & Poor’s credit ranking, we are among the few countries with the highest mark. Denmark has also made it through the past three years without a single challenge from the EU in regards to our debt and public spending. Things are under control. 
Growth: Denmark’s overall economy is expected to grow by 1.0-1.4 percent this year. That’s better than the eurozone’s 0.8 percent forecast. Denmark has had growth for four consecutive quarters, which is remarkable considering that our two largest markets – Sweden and Germany – have seen their economies decrease. The large stimulus packages pushed through by the government have worked – and they are working better than those in most EU countries. 
Employment: Unemployment has fallen from six to five percent in three years. Employment has increased by 30,000 – enough to fill Denmark’s national stadium. Denmark’s development is once again clearly among the best in Europe. The average unemployment in the eurozone, for example, is more than twice as high. Youth unemployment in Denmark is also among the lowest in the EU. 
Exports: The Danish export sector is clearly moving in the right direction again. The latest figures show that we are selling a good ten percent more abroad now than in 2011. One fourth of all jobs in Denmark are dependent on exports. Therefore, Thorning-Schmidt’s cabinet has focused on easier market access. Her embassy reform doubled the efforts that diplomats use on promoting exports, so that it now accounts for 40 percent of their jobs. 
Competitiveness: Two new studies show that Danish companies’ ability to compete globally are better than ever. The World Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ report ranked Denmark as the best in Europe and the fourth best in the world for the ease of running a business. In the World Economic Forum’s competitive index, we moved up to number 13. The reason? A tight fiscal policy has resulted in easier access to loans. 
Public benefit payments: As a consequence of the better employment conditions, the number of Danes on public assistance has fallen by 50,000 over there years, from 840,000 in 2011 to 790,000 now. In addition to the lower unemployment, fewer people are taking early retirement. The number of student grant recipients has risen over the same period, as there are now more people receiving an education. 
Equality: Two figures show that the sharp criticism over an apparent rise in inequality is just hot air. The number of poor residents, which increased unabated during the conservative government, has fallen – particularly as a result of the removal of the previous government’s poverty allowance. After many years in which the Gini coefficient, the economic model that measures inequality, was on the rise, that curve has now broken. The figures are marginal, but they show more equality. 
Climate: One of the areas in which the government can be most proud of its results is the environment and climate. With the energy agreement, very ambitious goals for more sustainable consumption have been set – among them the goal that half of all electricity should could from wind. The climate agreement strengthened the already impressive Danish goals so that we are now aiming to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent in 2020 in relation to 1990 levels. 
Not everything – of course – has gone well under Thorning-Schmidt. 
The deterioration of the unemployment benefit system, the partial sale of DONG, the unfortunate coupling of the school reform with a government intervention in the teachers’ collective bargaining agreement, the unnecessary tax breaks for businesses, a foreign policy that has seen the government lean far too heavily on the US and a European policy that has seen the prime minister be far too defensive. 
Anyone who fancies themselves a ‘political commentator’ could also easily reel off a list of strategic failures made by the government, but that is so easy that I’m going to skip it.
My point is that the expectations for Thorning-Schmidt were too high, partly of her own doing, and that the acknowledgment for her achievements has been too low. The difficult reform course is simply working. 
Everyone who has written off her chances of winning the next election is forgetting to look at the results. 
It was during one of Bill Clinton’s campaigns that his top advisor said that an election is always determined by how voters feel about the economy – “It’s the economy, stupid!”
That doctrine continues to apply and that’s why I think that after the next election, Denmark’s prime minister will still be Helle Thorning-Schmidt. 
David TradsDavid Trads is a journalist and political commentator. He is the former editor-in-chief of Information and Nyhedsavisen and has been a foreign correspondent in Moscow and Washington. This column originally appeared in Politiken and has been republished with the author's permission.