Monty Python once presented the ultimate murder mystery. It had everything you could possibly want: A setting in a sleepy English provincial town (Peterborough, anybody?), an unlikely suspect, a missing corpse, a sharp-eyed secretary, paper clips, twists and turns in the narrative, dramatic music, the kitchen sink.
There was one catch to the story, though. You see, no murder had been committed – hence the missing body – and the plot evaporated into, well nothing. But there was surely a lesson to be learned, the Pythons assured us. (If you don’t believe me, check out the album Matching Tie and Handkerchief where the Peterborough Murder Mystery is presented in all its silly glory).
In my opinion The Peterborough Murder Mystery is a fitting image of Danish politics during 2006: On one level, lots of things happened during the year – the Muhammad crisis, the welfare agreement, the food control scandal which eventually pushed the Conservative Lars Barfoed out of his post as Minister for Families and Consumer Affairs, the cancer treatment affair, controversies over the participation in the Iraq war, the final preparations for the implementation of the local government reform on 1 January 2007 – but on another, deeper, level the question is if anything happened. There was not a chance that the Danish People’s Party would bring down the government despite various hits at Conservative politicians and not a chance that the Liberal-Conservative government would ditch the DPP in favour of an alliance with the ailing Social Democrats.
But New Year 2007 is looming so to do the decent thing, I’ll be bringing you three highlights of Danish politics 2006. And Mohammad will not be featured.
The Social Liberals Go It Alone. Sort Of
Right-wing commentators have had an easy 2006 as the predicaments of the Social Liberal Party provided an obvious target for political scorn: On the one hand, the Social Liberals were uneasy about their position in the shadow of the Social Democrats, on the other hand the party had no real clue about what to do about its situation. Some wanted to push a liberal reform agenda, others wanted to emphasise the traditional links to the Social Democrats. In the end, the party took the plunge and to the astonishment of most of the electorate declared that the Social Liberals would aim for a government under the leadership of Marianne Jelved.
Given that neither the Social Democrats, the Liberals or the Conservatives favoured the idea, it seemed to be a doomed strategy. And, in case you wonder, I think it is.
What is worth considering is this isn’t the first time the Social Liberals have tried the go-it-alone strategy. The most famous case before “Jelved for Prime Minister” was the “It’s Springtime and Niels Helveg”-campaign in 1988 (no, the slogan doesn’t make sense in Danish either) which ended in a spectacular failure – the most likely explanation was that no-one except the members of the Social Liberals’ parliamentary group understood the manoeuvrings of the party in the submarine debate which led Prime Minister Poul Schlüter to call early elections in the spring of 1988.
And if you read the minutes of the opening debates of the Folketing from the 1980s, you will find several instances where the then leader of the Social Liberal Party, Niels Helveg Petersen, or other representatives of the party present alternative “opening speeches” that make no reference to the Prime Minister’s state of the nation speech. The strategy has never been successful and in many cases not even noticed by media and voters but it is a staple feature of Social Liberal politics.
So why do the Social Liberals continue to repeat old mistakes? After all they perceive themselves as the smartest party in Denmark.
I think there are two reasons for this: First, the Social Liberals are, and have always been, a house divided. As mentioned above, one part of the party has always seen its natural place as an ally of the Social Democrats while another part sees the Social Liberals as the Party of the Centre, free to choose its partners, left or right. Most parties have dual identities and usually the Social Liberals have been able to handle theirs with relative success. The problem arises when the party’s electorate pull in one direction – say: to the left – and the parliamentary group in another direction – say: to the right. This happened during the 1980s and it may be happening again.
Second, any true Social Liberal would happily sell his or her Mother (and Grandmother and the rest of the family) to gain control of the Median Legislator. Votes and government office are of seconary importance to this price which – to the eternal frustration of right-wing editorialists and trade union officials – has for long periods of time given the Social Liberals the power to control the legislative process as long as the Social Democrats, the Liberals and the Conservatives do not gang up. A Social Liberal Party without control of the median legislator is a very frustrated party.
And this brings us to the question: Who controls the median legislator? (To be continued…)