As the saying goes in Danish: When the cat is out, the mice are dancing, and during the last week, the mice have definitively done some dancing while prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen spent a week on vacation with his family. The culmination came on Sunday when unnamed sources in the Liberal Party criticised Løkke for his lack of leadership.
It is easy to see why the Liberals are restless: The PM has faced difficulties (to say the least) in promoting his “Project 2020″, there are problems with getting the Conservatives to play in tune and countless stupid little stories have conquered the political agenda (I mean: How the €%#” did lunches in kindergardens become a national political issue dominating the agenda for two weeks?). Add a lacklustre performance by the PM at COP15 and his mysterious failure to appear at the ambassadors’ meeting and things look – well, messy.
So now the Liberals are down at the level from 1998 in opinion polls and, horror of horrors, his Social Democratic challenger after five years finally enjoys the same level of confidence as the PM. Not good.
And we may ask: What went wrong and what can be done about it?
One thing which is noteworthy is that the Liberals do not appear to be a party in internal conflict over policy – this is not like the British Conservatives in the 1990s who fought endless battles over the legacies of Thatcherism and Europe, eventually tearing the party apart. There are, all things considered, no liberal zealots waiting in the wings. But as I have noted before, I see Løkke as a more ideologically motivated politician than Anders Fogh so the lack of ideological profile is a bit surprising.
If we look for major issues, then the relationship between the Liberals and the Conservatives merits attention – with the interesting twist that the Conservatives despite all attempts to raise their profile are stubbornly stuck at 10 per cent of the vote. Unlike the 1970s or the 1990s, it is not like the Conservatives are locked in a deadly contest with the Liberals over voters. It could be that the Conservative weakness is part of Løkke’s problems: The Conservatives need attention and they can make a splash in media but they are too week to really have leverage on government strategies.
Løkke’s fumbling is often contrasted with Fogh’s steely resolve, but we should remember that Anders Fogh did have his moments of clumsiness: Remember the messy negotiations over tax cuts in 2007 and the less than convincing reshuffles the same year? Of course, Fogh’s fumbles were seen as exceptions to a slick performance, while Løkke is now generally expected to be a klutz with the occasional bright moment. Maybe an element of positive feedback in the perception of Løkke is playing a role here?
Changing the leader before the next election looks like a dangerous path. Leave aside that the party would have to admit making a mistake in the first place, then the issue would be finding a credible candidate for the party leadership. Søren Gade is bogged down in scandals surrounding the Ministry of Defense and looks even more unreliable as a leader than Løkke. Kristian Jensen is still very young and pulling in Carl Holst from regional politics would be a bit of an experiment.
Well, as the Swedes say: He who lives will see.