It is indeed that time of the year again. As 2010 is rapidly nearing its end, it is time to take a look at some of the most spectacular fiascos of the last 12 months. This time, I intend to bring you – in no particular order – four politicians who went down like lead ballons in 2010: Lene Espersen, Mona Sahlin, Guido Westerwelle and Barack Obama
Does anyone remember Lene-mania today? This was back in the summer of 2008 when Bendt Bendtsen decided to call it a day after a decade as leader of the Danish Conservatives in order to enter the senior politicians’ equivalent of eternal rest: The European Parliament. The Conservative party conference was treated to a recording of Tina Turner singing “Simply the Best” while the new chairman presented herself and her family to the admiring delegates. Which incidentally begs the question: When do Danish politicians learn that Ms. Turner is lethal to political careers in this country?
At first everything was bliss. After a decade of – how to put it – less than charismatic leadership under Bendt Bendtsen, the party had a youngish, photogenic chairman who used to do well in the media. And the opinion polls were, finally, up. And who knew: Maybe the Conservatives could dream of a return to the 1980s when they, and not the Liberals, were the major centre-right party?
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, just about everything.
The increase in support proved to be a temporary blip and following the botched attempt at a reshuffle in January, just about everything went wrong.
We know that Espersen wanted to be foreign minister because – well, because foreign ministers are popular. The easy road to extra voters in other words. As long as you don’t go on holiday, that is. And shaking off bad karma in politics is very hard indeed as the Conservative chairman has learnt – or maybe: not learnt – since the Arctic5 story broke. The bad karma is so bad that Espersen was last observed being censored by the Finance Committee for actions taken by the Prime Minister when he was minister of health. Bad news cling to Lene Espersen like mud to a shoe on a wet day these days and the ever unfaithful political reporters have even argued that she would be thrown out of office at short notice if the election wasn’t looming. The worst thing is that even I am willing to believe this.
Needless to say, the Conservatives have a second problem here: The distinct lack of political talent. If (when) Espersen goes out the window, the obvious candidates are … er, yes, well … (I know that some would say Connie Hedegaard but 1) She is not an MP anymore and 2) I have never really seen her as having the urge to become a party leader)
But despite all of Espersen’s gaffes – and they have been plenty – her main problem is the lack of a political project for the Conservatives. During the late 1970s and 1980s Poul Schlüter managed to keep together a coalition concerned about fiscal reconstruction and public-sector modernisation but since the late 1990s, Conservative policy has mainly – or perhaps even exclusively – been about tax cuts and pro-business policies. This is something which on a good day will attract 5-10 per cent of the vote. And just to nail my point: Ask yourself – why is Lene Espersen foreign minister? I mean: Seriously? Besides trying to win easy popularity?
The Bendtsen strategy worked as long as there were no serious outside or inside challenges but the Conservative party organisation is worn out and the pro-business agenda is being taken over by an aggressive Anders Samuelsen and his
Team Saxo Bank Liberal Alliance.
As a colleague recently noted: Maybe it is time that the Conservatives noted that the Danish constitution does in fact not have a clause stating that the party is guaranteed representation in parliament.