In a column on fyens.dk, Troels Mylenberg argues that one of the major problems the present Danish government suffers from is a lack of profiled ministers. Just to prove Mylenberg’s point, you might try this game: Name ten ministers (with the exception of Løkke Rasmussen and Lars Barfoed) and link them with a distinct policy standpoint in two minutes without consulting the internet.
As Mylenberg says, what we have are basically operating officers (to use present-day management-speak) who implement decisions taken at the top level. It is harder to think of ministers who also stand out as politicians.
To a certain extent, there is nothing odd about having a number of low-profile ministers in a government. As it is – and as I noted in a previous – prime ministers and party leaders rely on some policy areas being handled competently and low-key. The problems arise when there is nothing but low-key ministers or when the competences of individual ministers are questionable. (Needless to say, incompetent low-key ministers are a total nightmare).
The Conservative Party is one part of the problem: Since the early 1990s, the party has found it difficult to attract and keep political talents – and those who were talents have shown a curious ability to destroy their own careers (Henriette Kjær is a case in point).
But maybe the Liberal Party has been hit by the effects of its own cunning plans. Some years ago Peter Mose and Susanne Hegelund published an interesting book about the workings of Danish governments in general and the Fogh Rasmussen governments in particular. As Mose and Hegelund pointed out, the Fogh Rasmussen governments relied on meticulously elaborated plans which the individual ministers were supposed to follow in every – and I mean every – details. Ministers executed orders, they did not provide political input.
Trying to break such a culture is hard, as Lars Løkke Rasmussen learned when he took over in 2009. Ministers were used to being told what to do, not to participate in policy discussions. And if the prime minister wants to maintain a lower profile to distance himself from his predecessor, the result can be an overall lack of political identity.