The Danish Conservatives continue to fascinate. Whatever the problems in interpreting opinion polls it is reasonably certain that the party has major problems in two ways: 1. It is down from 10 to 5 percent support, 2. As the centre-right looks set to lose government power, the party risks being reduced to irrelevance in the coming parliament.
It is easy to understand that the Conservative MPs and activists are concerned about the situation but solving the problems also requires identifying the right causes. Much has been said about Lene Espersen’s competences and by now the rumours about the impending defenestration of Ms. Espersen appear credible.
Even if the Conservatives have a not-so-proud history of internal conflicts (take 1946-47, 1971-74 and 1996-98 as cases in point), parallels to the present situation are difficult to find and describe. Perhaps the unrest in the Social Liberal Party in 2007 which ended with the defection of Naser Khader and Anders Samuelsen and the formation of New Alliance and the subsequent resignation of Marianne Jelved in favour of Margrethe Vestager is the closest we get to the present situation.
What the Conservatives in my opinion ought to consider are these points:
1. A change in party leader does not guarantee a change in policy. And coming up with an attractive programme may be the biggest problem facing the Conservatives. As it is, the party is too much the party of a very limited segment of the Danish electorate.
2. Vestager found that she had very little room of manoeuvre, given the facts of the political arena. So will a new Conservative leader, at least until the election.
3. Voters do not like parties engaging in internal conflicts. Khader and Samuelsen’s defection wasn’t the only reason for the Social Liberal defeat in the 2007 election (many of the votes in 2005 had been borrowed from the Social Democrats and SF).
4. Entering an electoral campaign with a new leader is very hard.
5. And even if Lars Barfoed has in fact tried issuing softer signals, he has also committed a number of faux pas, most notably ventilating the idea that the Conservatives could leave the government even if the Liberals stayed in office.
So, will the Conservatives change leader? Possibly. (The thing to note is that usually, I would say “no way”)
Will it improve the party’s chances in the coming election? No. The Conservatives will receive around 5-6 percent of the vote.