You know, from a professional point of view I haven’t had more fun since … oh, well, perhaps the election of the speaker of the Folketing in 1998. But, why would the Social Liberal Party a) support Helle Thorning-Schmidt as prime minister after the election while b) doing everything it can to sabotage the Social Democrats’ economic policy in the most humiliating way right now?
To make some sense of this, we need to a) look at the relationship between single issues (such as retirement reform), economic policy and general policy and b) look at the relationship between parties before and after the election.
Let us assume that the Social Liberals are generally closer to the Social Democrats than the Liberals on most policy issues (Taxes, Europe, environment, immigration, education) but that they are closer to the Liberals on economic policy in general and retirement reform in particular. This poses a strategic problem for the Social Liberals especially they also want to adhere to the parliamentary norm that agreements are to be respected unless they are cancelled before an election. So the Social Liberals can’t just pass an agreement with the government and DF now and then block any attempts from the Social Democrats and SF to undo a retirement reform after the election. On the other hand, the SocLibs are also obliged to respect any deal made with the government and DF now after an election – something which hypothetically means that the SocLibs are threatening with bringing down a Social Democratic government. And rule #1 in politics is that if you make a threat, it will have to be credible.
So, the SocLibs must either have gone completely and utterly mad or have a second agenda.
At the moment we have two government alternatives: To the right, the Liberals and the Conservatives and to the left the Social Democrats and SF. All things considered, the SocLibs might accept a Lib-Cons government, but they would rather do without DF as a supporting party. Similarly, the SocLibs’ lack of fondness for SF (in general and SF’s economic policies in particular) is a well-known fact. So, to order the SocLibs’ preferences in the red corner, we get this:
SocDem + SocLib > SocDem > SocDem + SF + SocLib > SocDem + SF
The point here is that alternatives #1 and #2 would – at least according to SocLib calculations – make a government under Helle Thorning-Schmidt dependent on … drum-roll … Liberal and/or Conservative support. Needless to say, the known unknown is if either of those parties would want to give life-support to the Social Democrats.
The right corner is another matter because Lib + Cons will not be an alternative without DF and it is also unlikely that SocLib will dare enter a Lib + Cons + SocLib coalition.
What we would get is something like this:
Lib + Cons (+ SocLib + SocDem) > Lib + Cons (+ SocLib + DF)
The latter alternative is still slightly more lethal to the SocLibs than the Cameron-Clegg love-in has been to the UK LibDems and the former is only happening in the wet and unrealistic dreams of some SocLib activists.
So to conclude: The logic behind all of this is that a) the SocLibs have a very strong policy preference for retirement reform (and in particular the abolition of the Early Retirement Benefit) and b) the SocLibs have a strong strategic preference against SF in government. And c) we are looking at the Mother of All Games of Chicken in Danish politics.
One more thing: We should also take into account that parties in multi-party systems operate in several arenas – in particular the parliamentary, the electoral and the organisational (or internal). If we look at Danish political history, the SocLibs have been good at operating in the parliamentary arena, but there have been cases where SocLib strategies have backfired in a big way and resulted in electoral defeats – the events before and after the 1988 election should be a warning to the Social Liberal leadership.