During the last week, Danish media have informed us that the Conservatives entertain the idea that Anders Fogh Rasmussen’s successor as prime minister should be Bendt Bendtsen. Or Lene Espersen. Or Mads Lebech.
What are the chances, I hear you asking the political scientist.
As a general rule, the largest party in a coalition fills the position as prime minister and as we all know, the Liberals are 2,5 times the size of the Conservatives.
There have been some exceptions to this rule, but if we look closer at them, it gets even more obvious that the Conservatives don’t stand a chance to get to appoint the next prime minister.
Exception #1: The Zahle II Government 1913-1920.
If the Social Democrats had wanted it, then it is not unlikely that Thorvald Stauning could have become prime minister in 1913. In terms of votes and MPs, the Social Democrats were after all the largest party on the left side of the political spectrum. As it was, the party still lived by the rule that it would not enter government before it held a majority in parliament. Consequently, the Social Liberal leader C. Th. Zahle became prime minister by default. The Social Liberals, to this day, still haven’t understood this.
Exception #2: The Baunsgaard Government 1968-1971
In 1968, the Conservatives were the largest party in the Conservative – Liberal – Social Liberal coalition and if the general rule had applied, Poul Møller should have been prime minister. The problem was that the Conservatives needed something that would guarantee the Social Liberals’ loyalty. That “something” was the prime minister’s office and so Hilmar Baunsgaard became prime minister.
Exception #3: The Schlüter Government 1982-1984
The 1979 election had yielded a potentially dangerous result for the moderate right – the Conservatives and the Liberals both won 22 seats in parliament. Things became a little clearer in 1981 when the Conservatives won 26 seats and the Liberals 20. Still, to many commentators Poul Schlüter wasn’t the obvious candidate compared with Henning Christophersen.
But Schlüter had an advantage as he was flexible in negotiations. Schlüter’s political masterpiece was that he during the spring and summer of 1982 managed to convince not only the Social Liberals but also the Progress Party that he would take them seriously at the negotiating table. Schlüter could guarantee the four-party government a parliamentary basis, Christophersen could not. Still, the Conservatives bought Liberal loyalty by giving the party control of the Foreign, Finance and Economy portfolios.
To sum up: If a Conservative politician wants to make it to the Prime Minister’s Office in the near future, he or she must be better to secure external support for the government than a Liberal competitor. Given the often fascinating relationship between the Conservatives and the Danish People’s Party since 2001, this is not a realistic scenario, not even if the government should come to depend on New Alliance or the Social Liberals.