(Looking for Part 1? It’s here)
It used to be so easy: From 1910, when the Liberal Party finally emerged as a modern party, until 2001, it was always possible to identify the median legislator in the Danish parliament. Between 1910 and 1929 the Liberals and the Social Liberals shared the honours more or less equally – and always in a very messy way. From 1929 to 1957, the Social Liberal Party stood as king-maker in the Folketing.
From then on, things got a little more complicated, but basically the Social Liberals were still in the middle of the action with the exception of two short, but memorable terms (1966-1968, 1971-1973) when the Danish Social Democrats finally arrived at the position inhabited by their Swedish comrades during most of the 20th Century: The party commanding the median legislator.
Or was young Moses Olsen the true median during that last term? In any event, it didn’t last. The 1973 earthquake election put an end to all Social Democratic dreams of controlling the median.
Back to the present: The only thing we know about the parliamentary facts of life since November 2001 is that the Social Liberal Party hasn’t controlled the median legislator. They came very close in February 2005 but failed as right-wing commentators and editorial writers has reminded us ever since. But if the Social Liberals haven’t, who have controlled the median legislator: The Liberals, the Conservatives or the Danish People’s Party?
Will the real median legislator please stand up?
The Case for the Conservative Party
The Conservative Party may not appear to be the most likely candidate as the median party of the Folketing – the Conservatives favour hard-line immigration and justice policies and have consistently argued for tax-cuts. In terms of their ideological position, they would be to the right on both the socio-economic and new politics scales.
On the other hand, there have been invites between the Conservatives and the Social Liberals in environment, EU and, more surprising, tax policy and political commentators often discuss a Social Liberal – Conservative – Liberal alliance after the next election as a serious alternative. Finally, there is little love lost between the Conservatives and the Danish People’s Party. The venom exchanged with regular intervals between Conservatives and DPPs is one of the great sources of amusement in contemporary Danish politics and the Conservatives wouldn’t mind cutting the DPP down to scale.
Would the Liberals be happy to join a Liberal – Conservative – Social Liberal alliance? Probably, if the alternative was going into opposition. But the smiles on all sides would be a bit forced and the Liberal preference in my opinion is the present alliance with the DPP.
The Case for the Danish People’s Party
The DPP is often described as a right-wing party. This is not quite fair to the party itself or the people who vote for the party. All research suggest that the DPP is placed a little to the right of the political centre on the socio-economic scale and near the authoritarian extreme on the new politics scale. This would, theoretically, give the DPP some leverage in parliamentary politics as many traditional Social Democrat voters would be sympathetic to the DPP.
Equally, the DPP may hesitate in bringing down the present government but the party has collected a medium-profile scalp in the resignation of Lars Barfoed. The process behind Mr. Barfoed’s resignation could be seen as a demonstration of DPP independence.
The question that we still need to answer is: Would a Social Democrat – DPP – Social Liberal or Socialist alliance be a viable option?
It would without doubt be an entertaining political show but it would immediately bring the conflicts within the Social Democratic Party to the surface and there would be endless sniping between Socialists or Social Liberals on the one hand and the Danish People’s Party on the other. I can’t see it happening in the foreseeable future.
The Case for the Liberal Party
How about the Liberals, then? Under Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s leadership the party has made an impressive left-turn – at least with regard to the socio-economic dimension – and done everything possible to lure blue-collar workers over to the other side of the political divide. And the party has succeeded: Commentators with a touch of sarcasm would say that Denmark since 1998 has had not one but three Social Democratic parties – the Social Democrats, the Danish People’s Party and the Liberal Party.
Does this mean that the Liberals control the median legislator? If the political rules of the good old days – before 2001 – did still apply in Danish politics, the answer would have no. The Liberals wouldn’t break ranks with the Conservatives and the DPP to form an alternative coalition, except possibly with the Social Liberals. If the Liberals command the median legislator, they do so by stopping alternative coalitions.
So maybe the answer is that the rules, at least for the moment, have changed. Just like the Swedish Social Democrats traditionally built their position on the control of the median legislator in the Swedish parliament, so the Danish Liberals are frustrating the aspirations of the Danish People’s Party and, especially, the Conservatives by being the immovable element in the middle.
Have the Danes been going Swedish all this time? Strange times indeed.
(to be continued…)
I note that my spell-checker has a great sense of irony: It suggests that I should change Lars Barfoed’s surname into barfed or barcode.