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OPINION: Why do the names of Danish political parties have to be so confusing?

By giving his new centre party the same name as the right-wing party in neighbouring Sweden, Denmark's former PM followed the age-old local tradition of maddeningly confusing party names.

OPINION: Why do the names of Danish political parties have to be so confusing?
Former Danish PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen speaks to press in May 2021. Photo: Nils Meilvang/Ritzau Scanpix

Lars Løkke Rasmussen, Denmark’s former prime minister, announced in 2021 that his new centrist party would be called Moderaterne, meaning “The Moderates”, meaning we’ll forever be having to distinguish it from the Swedish right-wing party of the same name.  

But it should perhaps come as no surprise that Rasmussen, who long led Denmark’s Venstre party, should give his party a name  that will generate misunderstandings. 

Venstre, which literally means “Left” and calls itself “The Liberal Party” in English, is neither left-wing nor liberal.

Indeed, under Rasmussen it was arguably the most illiberal, right-wing government in Danish history, passing laws to strip refugees of their jewellery, ban the burqa, and hold foreign criminals on a tiny prison island. 

The reason for Venstre‘s confusing name is historical. It was originally founded in 1870 as a union of groups and smaller parties opposing the then dominant conservative party Højre, the “Right party”. Det Forenede Venstre, or “The United Left” was largely dominated by agrarian groups and did not start evolving from being a traditional farmer’s party until well into the 1960s. 

Venstre isn’t even the the Danish party with the most confusing name.

Rather than being the rabid Marxist-Leninist outfit you might expect, Radikale Venstre, meaning literally “the Radical Left”, is the most pragmatic party in Danish politics, a centrist party willing to work with either the Liberals or the Social Democrats to pursue its sensible reform goals. 

The came about as a group which split from Venstre in 1905 over differences in military spending. At least its English name, the “Social Liberal Party”, largely reflects what it’s about. 

The names of the other parliamentary parties make more sense, Det Konservative Folkeparti, or “The Conservative party”, really is conservative, the Enhedslisten, literally “The Unity List” but calling itself the “Red-Green Alliance” is both far-left and environmentalist, “Liberal Alliance” is libertarian, and “Nye Borgerlige”, which calls itself The New Right, is arguably the ideological heir of the global New Right movement (albeit with a far-Right position on immigration). 

What about the Social Democrats? Some would argue they currently undergoing the same sort of shift across the political centre that Denmark’s Liberals underwent in the 1980s, when Uffe Ellemann-Jensen, the father of the party’s current leader, adopted a near-Thatcherite line, calling for a smaller public sector, greater harnessing of the market, and privatisation. 

It’s certainly hard to square the current party, which is tightening immigrant laws beyond anything the Liberals dared to do, with the Social Democrats as they were under the leadership of Poul Nyrup Rasmussen from 1993 to 2001. 

As for Rasmussen’s Moderates, it’s hard to know exactly how they will be “moderate”. 

The Swedish party adopted the name in 1969 when as the stuffy Högerpartiet, or “Right Party”, it was struggling to make any inroads against the then all-dominant Social Democrats. 

The Social Democrats are now fairly dominant in Denmark too, but so far, Rasmussen has been vague on policy, saying in his speech on Denmark’s Constitution Day on Saturday, that the party will attempt to unite Danes from different backgrounds and political viewpoints.

“Some prefer mackerel, and others prefer salmon. Some have long Danish pedigrees, others have only recently chosen to live in Denmark,” he said. 

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POLITICS

Danish People’s Party decimated by new high-profile departures

The anti-immigration Danish People’s Party now only has a handful of lawmakers left in parliament after four high-profile departures this weekend.

Danish People’s Party decimated by new high-profile departures

Two former deputy leaders, Søren Espersen and Peter Skaarup, who have had several high profile spokesperson roles in the right wing party, announced they were quitting its parliamentary group this weekend, as did two further members of the group, Jens Henrik Thulesen Dahl and Dennis Flydtkjær.

That follows several other resignations from the parliamentary group earlier this year after Morten Messerschmidt was in January elected as the party’s new leader.

The Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti, DF) received 8.7 percent of the votes in the 2019 election, giving it 16 seats in parliament. It now only has six of those seats remaining following the resignations.

Those numbers are a far cry from the party’s strong showings in the early 2010s, which culminated in a 21 percent vote share and 37 seats at the 2015 general election.

DF was also on the wrong end of a trouncing in the November 2021 local elections, which elicited the resignation of former leader and party co-founder Kristian Thulesen Dahl.

Dahl remains a member of the party but last week said he would not run for DF in the next general election, set for 2023.

READ ALSO: Former leader of Danish far-right party to quit at next election

But Dahl’s official exit from the party is a “matter of hours and days”, according to political analyst Hans Engell of media Altinget.

“We are now at a decisive point because the entire top end, the founding fathers, have left the party,” Engell said to news wire Ritzau.

“All that remains is what I would call the jewel in the crown: Kristian Thulesen Dahl. It’s just a matter of hours and days before he leaves the party,” Engell said.

The analyst also said that Messerschmidt’s task in restoring the party was “almost unsolvable”.

DF co-founder Pia Kjærsgaard, who led the party until 2012, remains loyal to Messerschmidt and aimed thinly veiled criticism at Dahl on social media on Sunday.

The party’s issues are further complicated by the launch last week of a new party, Danmarksdemokraterne (“The Denmark Democrats”) by former Liberal (Venstre) party immigration minister Inger Støjberg, who was ejected from parliament late last year following a guilty verdict in a special impeachment court.

Having served her sentence for the conviction, Støjberg is now bidding to return to parliament with the newly-formed party. Given the reputation of Støjberg as an immigration hardliner, some overlap with DF’s signature politics on the area is likely.

Dahl has been linked with the new party and some of the other DF defectors have already signalled their willingness to join the project, according to Ritzau.

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