25 years – how time flies.
25 years ago today, Poul Schlüter was appointed PM after Anker Jørgensen had abandoned his attempts to negotiate yet another short-term economic agreement in order to deal with the chronic problems in Danish economy – increasing unemployment, spiralling inflation, uncontrollable trade and budget deficits.
In 1982, Schlüter was one of the most underrated Danish politicians – a leading industrialist famously wrote him off as a political lightweight by branding him a “perfume salesman” – but a close inspection should have warned friends and foes against underestimating the Conservative leader. After all, since taking over in 1974 he managed to fend off the threat of the Liberals in 1977 and also started to make inroads into the support for the Progress Party. Finally, he saw off a number of internal enemies during the 1970s. The Conservative Party of 1982 was still far from the glory days in the late 1960s – but it was a serious contender for government office and Schlüter, as the first Conservative politician since 1900, was a serious condenter for the Prime Ministership.
Given the state of the party in 1974, this in itself was a remarkable feat.
The changes in the Danish economy since 1982 are not just due to Schlüter’s policies – the shift from a traditional Keynesian economic policy to a policy focusing on fighting inflation and creating lower interest rates was part of an international trend as was the introduction of what became known as New Public Management (Schlüter talked about Moderniseringsprogrammet).
As I see it, Schlüter had two political qualities that helped him stay in office for 10 1/2 years.
First, he mastered the rules of the parliamentary game without making it look like an end in itself – something Anker Jørgensen (and the Social Liberal Party to an even higher degree) could be accused of indulging in.
Second, he was a much better policy communicator than most other politicians in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1982 Schlüter managed to present his government programme as a common project and thus forced not only the Social Democrats but also the Progress Party to defend their positions – forcing the PP into the defensive was perhaps the major factor in securing the government’s survival in the first complicated term until the 1984 election.
Update: Berlingske Tidende has this essay by the former chairman of the Liberal Party Uffe Ellemann-Jensen who was Foreign Minister between 1982 and 1993. Jyllands-Posten brings an essay by Martin Ågerup. The Conservatives, strangely, are silent on the day.