Over on Twitter Sydsvenskan’s Niklas Orrenius asked me recently if one could speak of a “Danish strategy”, meaning that the Danish Liberal Party (V) had set up the field for the Danish People’s Party (DF) by making a) immigration policy acceptable on the political agenda and b) making an extreme position (in relative terms) possible by presenting outrageous proposals which would then allow DF to appear as a “responsible” party. The dynamic is put in crude terms here (in part due to Twitter’s 140 sign limit)
I think there are several questions at stake here:
A. Have the Sweden Democrats (SD) deliberately used the Swedish Liberals (FP) as a foil during the past parliamentary term and the 2010 election campaign?
This one is probably not for me to answer – but we do know that immigration has been the main motivation for voters who opted for SD and that the Swedish Liberals deliberately pushed immigration policy in the 2002 and 2006 campaigns (with differing success, it should be noted). So by putting immigration on the mainstream agenda, it would seem logical that FP cleared the path for SD. On the other hand, FP generally attracts a different segment of the Swedish electorate.
The subquestion is if FP has made outrageous initiatives which SD could then catch on to and come out as the sensible party. I’m a bit unsure about that – but for somebody with access to Swedish media databases it ought to be easy to check. I’m not sure, though, that SD has to appear “sensible” to its potential voters – it is probably more important that SD appears to express “everybody’s concerns”.
B. Have the Swedish parties imitated their Danish counterparts?
We know that FP took inspiration from V in the 2002 campaign. I’m not really sure about the 2006 and 2010 campaigns. Similarly, direct exchanges between SD and DF only began during the 2010 campaign. But SD could definitively use DF to bolster its own standing given that DF in 2010 had been the parliamentary basis for the Danish government for almost nine years. Obviously this would help give SD coalition potential.
C. Was there in fact a “Danish strategy” where the Liberals set up the field for the Danish People’s Party?
This is more complicated. Immigration has been sort-of-on-the-agenda since the mid-1980s but unemployment and economic policy were the major issues until the 1994 and 1998 elections. The Danish Liberals definitively would play the immigration card in the late 1980s and early 1990s but at that point the Progress Party was a highly unstable unit which “responsible” parties treated with great care. My guess is that the Liberals were waiting to see how the newly-formed DF would perform in parliament between 1995 and 2001 and it was only after 2001 that the real affinities between the Liberals and DF became obvious.
Similarities and Differences
A final problem is that even if the Danish and Swedish Liberals and DF/SD to some extent occupy similar roles in the respective party systems, there are also some important differences. V is the main bourgeois party in Denmark and the main atagonist of the Social Democrats and has been so since 1994 (V also used to be the main party on the right between 1920 and 1966), FP’s position is more precarious – it is more like “the nice party you might vote for if it wasn’t because you had a better first choice”.
Similarly, the attempt by Danish Social Democrats to brand DF as pariahs failed because DF was obviously the sensible offspring of the Progress Party. In fact, it was Mogens Glistrup who made the obnoxious comments about immigrants while V and later DF used a more polished language. Unlike DF, SD still struggles with the quasi-racist stamp and its roots in the “White Power”-subculture.
Finally, I think it is worth noting that the Swedish government recently chose to enter a migration agreement with the Green Party (and not SD or for that matter the leaderless Social Democrats). The Danish equivalent would be an agreement between the Liberal-Conservative government and the Social Liberals (given that the three parties held a majority in the Danish parliament) – something which most people would consider highly unlikely.