Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned – sordid details included. Reader discretion is advised.The conservative papers are feasting on the news about John Prescott’s affair – Melissa Kite in the Sunday Telegraph and Bryan Appleyard in the Sunday Times may serve as cases in point.But the Observer har joined the hunt as well.Other news from the UK? Well, if you look closely, you’ll find a story about a crisis in the NHS (can this be categorised as “news”?) and one about the non-extradition of violent criminals involving the Home Office.Perhaps two cabinet ministers are more than happy that the Deputy Prime Minister was caught with his pants down.(And no: The quotation is not from Shakespeare.)
The Canadia-born economist John Kenneth Galbraith has died at the tender age of 97. These days, Galbraith will be considered an eccentric within the field for two reasons: He was what Europeans would call a Social Democrat rather than a conservative and relied on qualitative analysis rather than formal modelling in his work.
Galbraith did play some role in my education through the TV-series “The Age of Uncertainty” which followed the development of the global economy and Economics from the 18th Century onward and which was screened by Danish television back around 1980.
For Brad deLong’s take on Galbraith, read this review of Richard Parker’s biography.
Update: In fact, Brad deLong reposted his review on his blog instead of writing an obituary (that would have had basically the same content). The comments are actually worth reading as well.
During the last 15 years the satirical column of the Copenhagen broadsheet Politiken At tænke sig (“Would you imagine”) has presented a number of variations on the name of the Social Democratic party.
Following the deposition of party chairman Svend Auken, the party was renamed Sjakaldemokraterne (“the Jackal Democrats”) and the contestants Auken and Poul Nyrup Rasmussen became known as Svend Afgang (“discharge”) and Poul Nykup (“New coup”).
These days the name has been changed to Suicidaldemokraterne – translation needless – while the party chairman Helle Thorning-Schmidt has been issued with a Macintosh PowerBook instead of a diary to which she can confess her innermost thoughts. (The pun is impossible to translate: A diary is dagbog – litterally “day book” – in Danish and of cause you would expect an adolescent girl but not a grown-up woman to keep a diary. A person using a Mac is supposed to be a hip urban character with a career in advertising or other forms of shallow work. A Social Liberal would use a Mac, not a Social Democrat).
In any event, the latest twist in the chaos which is the Social Democrats is that Berlingske Tidende on Saturday published a column predicting the imminent demise of Helle Thorning-Schmidt and the return of Ritt Bjerregaard to the top ranks of the party with Nicolai Wammen, the present mayor of Århus as the party’s next chairman.
This follows last week’s round of sackings on the parliamentary front benches and a truly bizarre conflict between Thorning-Schmidt and Bjerregaard over who should be the main speaker at the traditional Labour Day Parade in Copenhagen.
The fun really starts when you notice who the author of the column is: The former Minister of Social Affairs Karen Jespersen, who spent the last part of her active political career engineering a massive public conflict over the party’s immigration and integration policies. Her husband Ralf Pittelkow used to be the special advisor to Poul Nyrup Rasmussen in the early days of his chairmanship and term in office as Prime Minister before being unceremoniously discharged after conflicts with the line civil servants in the Prime Minister’s Office and taking up a post as political columnist at the conservative daily Jyllands-Posten (yes, the paper which published the Muhammad cartoons).
Oh, and lest we forget: The gruesome twosome Jespersen and Pittelkow started out as radical socialists back in the 1970s when radical socialism was à la mode but drifted towards the Social Democrats in the late 1980s when radicalism had lost its attraction among voters and academics and a change of government became a likely prospect. These days nationalist populism is the winning formula in Danish politics – and guess what: Jespersen and Pittelkow are there.
As we enter the wonderful month of May (in fact May isn’t so wonderful for me as I’m allergic to birch pollen) the majority of Danish 13- and 14-year olds prepare for … well, what exactly? In principle the confirmation ceremony is supposed the be a ceremony where boys and girls on the threshold of adulthood affirms their baptism. In practice the materialistic aspects of the entire ceremony – lots of gifts and a day off from school – are probably more important to the kids.
In Denmark the Affirmation ceremony – or konfirmation as it is known in Danish and German – was made obligatory in the mid-18th Century by King Christian VI who was a strong suppporter of the Pietist movement as part of an attempt to Denmark into a Pietist society. An important part of the ceremony was the preparation through ecclesiastical instruction by the parish priest. The instruction was in fact the first example of mandatory education in Denmark, predating the introduction of general compulsory education – where the clergy originally played a large and important role – by some 80 years.
Even if the obligation to follow ecclesiastical instruction was abolished in the 1850s and the role of the clergy in the educational system has been abolished, some strange links between primary education and the Danish Church still exist.
First, Danish public schools still teach Christian studies, not religion, as a subject. Members of other recognised religious communities can have their children excepted from these classes, but not atheists and non-confessionals.
Second, during the year when children follow instruction classes as a preparation to attend the affirmation ceremony, the local parish has the first choice when it comes to scheduling classes. If the vicar wants classes to be from 10 to 12 a.m, the school has to accept that and the children who do not follow instruction classes will have a break during the school day. That may sound nice but is a practical problem for the school. Is also raises some interesting questions about the confessional status of the Danish public school system.
On the other hand, the traditional link between the church and the public school system in Denmark as well as a number of other European countries has had some non-obvious consequences. As a German writer noted, the stricht separation of state and church in the U.S. has meant that the schools or rather the curricula in other subjects in some parts of the country have become an important battlefield in the struggle between religious and secular interests.
In Denmark and most other countries with a Protestant state church, religion has been referred to an isolated part of the education system. Maybe the problems with the scheduling of instruction classes is a small price to pay for a basically secular education.
Declaration of interest: I did not attend ecclesiastical instructrion and I am not confirmed in the Danish Church. I was baptised in Sct. Nikolaj Kirke in Åbenrå – mostly out of consideration to my very religious grandmother.
Perhaps something good will come out of the cartoon thing. According to a report on Danmarks Radio’s homepage, the Foreign Office has been advised by a tourism consultant to ditch the ubiquitous Little Mermaid along with all of the other fairy tales if it wants to improve Denmark’s image around the world.
According to the consultant the constant use of a fairy tale kingdom imagery only leaves the impression of Denmark as an introverted, smug nation.
I couldn’t agree more even if the writer Dan Turell said it more poetically:
Denmark is an oversized cheese-dish cover with a built-in Royal Theatre and Radio Boys’ Choir.
2006 is the Year of Multiculturalism here in Sweden (not that I have made too much notice of it. Perhaps true multiculturalism in the official Swedish sense is restricted to the Stockholm area?) and that could be that basis of an interesting debate about what “multiculturalism” really is.
I shall leave aside the observation that any society strictly speaking is multicultural – working class culture is someting different from white collar culture – and just note that the philosophically and politically difficult question is one of how individual rights should be balanced against group rights.
The Swedish Muslim Association may unwittingly have thrown a rather nasty issue into the upcoming electoral campaign by sending a letter sent to all political parties in Sweden where the Association demands the introduction of special legislation covering Swedish Muslims with regard to among other issues education and family policy. (A copy of the letter – in Swedish – can be found on SvT’s homepage).
As of Thursday evening, the Liberal Party has responded with a definitive rejection of many of the demands made by the Muslim Association while the Minister for Equal Rights Jens Orbäck called the demands for unacceptable.
I’m not too familiar with the different organisations within the Swedish Muslim community so it is hard to gauge how much support the demands actually have among Swedish Muslims. Judged from the letter, the Muslim Association should probably be classified as socially conservative and fearful of tendencies towards assimilation of Muslims into mainstream Swedish society.
This Tuesday the Swedish airforce cancelled its participation in a multinational excercise which takes place in Italy in two weeks’ time and which is organised by NATO and Partnership for Peace.
The reason given by the Swedish government is that Sweden does not want to take part in any military cooperation that involves Israel as the country will not be contributing to international peacekeeping efforts in the near future. In Dagens Nyheter prime minister Göran Persson is quoted for one of the most inscrutable statements made by a Swedish politician during the last decade:
We have led a policy of neutrality for hundreds of years. That is our history, the Israelis have another and more martial which is something I can only regret.
Persson uses the word “krigerisk” which can be translated as martial but which also carries the meaning militant or hawkish. In a strict interpretation, Perssons statement would make any kind of cooperation with a state which has been involved in a war since 1809 impossible, and that makes an interpretation of the statement as specifically anti-Israeli in nature the more obvious. But then again the Swedes have a history of righteous isolationalism.
The Swedish government had known about the Israeli participiation in the excercise since February.
Needless to say, the Israelis were less than happy and their feelings toward the Swedish government were hardly mitigated by the news that Sweden would grant visas to representatives for Hamas and that several persons within the governing Social Democratic Party are calling for Sweden to cooperate with the Hamas government in the Palestinian Authority.
More amazing twists to the tale about the Conservatives and the Danish People’s Party.
First, it was announced that the DPP would propose that the Veterinary and Food Administration should be transferred back to the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries from the Ministry of Family and Consumer Affairs where it has been placed since the government reshuffle in 2004 and that a majority in the Folketing would support the proposal.
That’s all well and fine but one obvious problem is that according to the Danish constitution the distribution of portfolios is the exclusive prerogative of the prime minister. In other words: If the DPP really wanted to force such a transfer against the prime minister’s will, then the party would have to bring down the government. A vote of no confidence against Lars Barfoed, the beleaguered Minister of Family and Consumer Affairs, wouldn’t do the trick: Even if the Liberals don’t love the Conservatives, it would be the end of the government if the PM exposed a Conservative minister to this kind of humiliation.
Unsurprisingly, the response from government representatives was that the government wouldn’t support the DPP’s proposal in a vote and that the prime minister wouldn’t move responsibility for the agency to the Ministry of Food. In effect, the DPP’s move would be an empty gesture.
That’s all well and fine as well but Thursday evening Danish media reported that the Liberals and the Danish People’s Party had led secret negotiations about the initiative without involving – or even orienting – the leader of the Conservative Party in the process. That the Liberals have warmer feelings for the DPP than the Conservatives is no surprise but this type of clandestine cooperation against a formal partner in government is definitively a novelty in Danish politics.
On Friday, the Conservative leader Bendt Bendtsen is scheduled to have a reconciliation lunch with Pia Kjærsgaard, the leader of the Danish People’s Party. Perhaps the host of the event will be well advised to remember that forks and knives can be used as assault weapons.
In case you forgot: Today (Wednesday) was Administrative Professionals Day, the day formerly known as Secretaries Day.
British newspapers celebrated the day by publishing the story about Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott’s two-year affair with one of his secretaries.
For heaven’s sake, John: You’re 67 and she is 43. She is young enough to be your daughter!