Ah yes: Ritt Bjerregaard. If Danish media should lack a story, Ritt Bjerregaard is always an easy subject. This week-end Berlingske Tidende was happy to tell us that support for the Social Democrats in Copenhagen according to an opinion poll had plummeted from 37 to 24%.
The other way of looking at this is of cause to point out that should the Social Democrats land on around 25% of the vote in the local elections in November 2009, then they will be back on the level from 2001. But then again, the party’s performance in 2001 was pathetic and most likely helped convince Jens Kramer-Mikkelsen that taking up a very well-paid job as CEO of Ørestadsselskabet would be a good career move.
Bringing in Bjerregaard who had no prior record in local politics in Copenhagen was a curious mix of a brilliant PR move and a reflection of the crisis of what was once the strongest branch of the Danish Social Democrats – although ambitious local politicians felt frustrated by being sidelined in the process. That the right wing challenge for the Mayor’s office collapsed thanks to the shenanigans of the Danish People’s Party didn’t exactly hurt the Social Democrats in the 2005 campaign.
Trying to evaluate Ms. Bjerregaard’s performance from a distance of 1500 kilometres – even as an old Copenhagener – is difficult. She has been criticised for an authocratic style of leadership (see also above under “Social Democrats with disappointed ambitions”) had problems delivering on her promise to build “5000 apartments which would cost no more than 5000 DKK in monthly rent” – planning and financing issues – and the conflicts surrounding Ungdomshuset made her an unloved figure, at least on the extreme left. But then again Copenhagen is the venue for violent clashes between groups of youths and the authorities at regular intervals.
What about the implications in the longer term?
First, a challenge against Ms. Bjerregaard will have to come either from the Socialist Party or from within her own party. The Liberals and Conservatives are in tatters and I’m not really sure that the Social Liberals’ Klaus Bondam is a serious contender – especially because he would need support from the right wing in the city council. But do the Social Democrats of Copenhagen have the strength for an internal battle?
Second, as electoral researchers point out, one should never underestimate Bjerregaard’s strengths as a campaigner. The prospect of a Socialist mayor of Copenhagen has been mentioned ever since the mid-1980s and has failed to materialise each time.
On the other hand, Ms. Bjerregaard isn’t exactly a spring chicken: In 2009 she will be 68 years old and the likelihood that she would serve another full term can be discussed. She was originally brought in as an emergency candidate and could decide to resign gracefully (Will you guys please stop laughing! – I’m trying to make a serious argument here!!) before the 2009 campaign heats up. But then again: Can the Social Democrats in Copenhagen produce a credible candidate for the mayor’s office from within their own ranks?
Copenhagen isn’t exactly London – but the local politics are almost as fascinating.
And in case you are curious: This is where I used to live during the 1990s.