Ah, yes: The Conservative Party. Does anybody remember them these days? They used to be a major, if often troubled player in Danish politics and the guarantee for (reasonably) stable centre-right governments. The party under Poul Schlüter even held the position as prime minister between 1982 and 1993.
But these days? Imagine that the Conservative Party actually slipped under the 2% threshold: What would Danish politics be losing?
No-one can come up with any great politicians or any outstanding ideas that the electorate has been waiting for?
Where exactly did it all go wrong? (Yes, that is a lot of question-marks)
Back in first half of the 1980s, there was in fact a lot of talk about the prospect of the Conservatives overtaking the Social Democrats as the largest party – they never quite made it but still won a respectable 42 seats in the 1984 election. The fatigue only really sat in following the 1988 election when the Liberals finally after a decade in the doldrums staged one of the most impressive comebacks in Danish political history, going from 10% of the vote in 1987 to 30% in 2001. The Liberals are still outdone by the Conservatives’ massive rebound from 5% in 1975 to 23% in 1984.
What may be more interesting is the talk about the Conservative Youth Federation which was described as the place for cool kids to be in the 1980s. The thing is that those leading the Conservative Party in the 2000s and 2010s would have been recruited during the 1980s so obviously something went very wrong here.
The conflicts during the 1990s didn’t make things any better – two or three rounds of internal struggle drained the party of a number of potential leaders, leaving it with the tired, those who fit in with the paint on the wall and the self-absorbed. Not exactly a happy constellation.
In policy terms, the Conservatives have spent the 2000s by trying to position themselves as the business-friendly party. Business-friendly as in effectively having only one point on the agenda: Tax-cuts for high-earners. The fate of the Swedish Conservatives in the 2002 election should have served as a warning to the Danish party: Single-mindedly focusing on tax-cuts combined with occasional declarations about what the party don’t like is not enough to guarantee a long-term following.
Now the party faces a double (if not triple) challenge: It will have to come up with a full political agenda which is not exclusively focused on the business community, it will have to reconsider its strategies for recruiting political talent (at a time when the Liberals are appearing as the default party for the general centre-right and Liberal Alliance for the self-absorbed) and it will have to demonstrate its political relevance during a parliamentary term where the party is, effectively, irrelevant.