I should note that last week brought two anniversaries in Danish politics:
Hit the road, Hans
Ten years ago the then leader of the Conservative Party, Hans Engell, decided to drive home after a dinner for the party’s parliamentary group. It was a very bad idea: Engell was drunk and hit a road block north of Lyngby. Blaming the contractors of the roadworks afterwards didn’t exactly help Engell’s public standing, and he was eventually forced to retire from his post as chairman of the Conservative Party.
Engell stayed on in politics for three more years where his main contribution was to undermine the two consecutive leaders with a disastrous result for the party at the 1998 elections as the most important outcome. In this way, Engell paved the road for Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s unchallenged rise to the position of, first, leader of the opposition and, second, Prime Minister.
In 2000, Engell made an unusual career move as he became editor of the tabloid Ekstra Bladet. Given that Ekstra Bladet was part of Politikens Hus which had traditional links to the Social-Liberal Party and – to some degree – the Social Democrats, hiring a very outspoken conservative politician was not exactly what you would have expected.
Engell’s presentation page at Ekstra Bladet has an edge to it, by the way: It shows a frontpage lambasting the present Conservative Justice Minister Lene Espersen in a case concerning an undercover police agent. Engell was Justice Minister between 1989 and 1993 and it has been claimed that he was involved in the case and as editor tried to block some reports about his role in the affair.
The Lady from the Social Office
Pia Kjærsgaard is 60? Just like Marianne Jelved, Kjærsgaard has a strange timeless appearance even though she has been a prominent politician almost since the day she entered parliament in 1984 as a substitute for Mogens Glistrup who was serving a jail term for tax fraud.
The Danish People’s Party is essentially a working class party and the party has made good use of the fact that Kjærsgaard worked as a home care assistant when she reentered the labour market in the late 1970s after a ten-year hiatus. The Danish People’s Party has made good use of that move in presenting Kjærsgaard as the home case assistant of all Danes.
More than anything Kjærsgaard is a child of the upheavals of the 1960s: She has a middle-class, not a working-class, background and was originally attracted to the Social-Liberal Party under Hilmar Baunsgaard’s catch-all leadership but it was Glistrup who made her go into politics as a member and later a candidate for the Progress Party.
In the mid-1980s Kjærsgaard quickly emerged as the Progress Party’s biggest political talent. She showed an unusual flair not only for electoral agitation but also for parliamentary negotiations. She didn’t have Glistrup’s extraordinary analytical intelligence but unlike Glistrup who basically lives in a parallel universe, she had a sense for people’s aspirations and for how to run an organisation.
She also possessed the brutality any successful politician needs: When Glistrup’s eccentricities threatened to sideline the Progress Party in the early 1990s, she had prepared her strategy along with a select few allies, left the PP and formed the Danish People’s Party, demolishing the Progress Party and leaving her old idol looking as a spent joke as part of the process. Since then, she has faced and defeated a number internal critics and she has survived being vilefied by political opponents.
At 60, Kjærsgaard is a success story. In an age where journalists tell us that personalities are everything and organisations nothing in politics, she chose not to rely on her immediate charisma and electoral appeal but instead built a tightly controlled party organisation that would guarantee the survival of populist politics in Denmark.
Even if – or rather: Especially when – you do not agree with her politics, Kjærsgaards political competences and strategies merit attention.