Given my general mood, I thought it would be appropriate to end 2011 with a discussion of some things which could go terribly wrong in 2012 and leave us – to use a popular expression – FUBAR‘ed. Being a political scientist I have chosen to concentrate on political matters, beginning with the bad and ending with the utterly terrible.
But first a warning: There will be no massive earthquakes, tsunamis or exploding nuclear power plants here. This is much, much worse.
We begin at home, with the Danish coalition government which was already shaky at its conception and after a couple of months looks more rattled than any Danish government since the SocDem-Liberal government of 1978-1979. The worst thing is that that government was the result of a parliamentary accident and gross miscalculations while the SocDem-SF alliance had been carefully negotiated and prepared.
Or so we thought.
Two problems troubling the three-party government in general and SF in particular are that a) SF lost votes and seats in the election and b) the Social Liberals, not SF held the decisive seats and knew how to use them. The result is a construct which looks as if it could implode at any moment.
But how likely is an implosion of SF and the three-party government and what would the long-term effects be?
First of all, Danish parties seldom break up while they are in government but during the course of the last sixty or so years, we have seen some cases of parties suffering serious internal conflicts due to government participation. Consider this list: The Justice Party (beaten into oblivion after participating in the 1957-1960 triangle government), The Social Liberals and the Conservatives (deep factional conflicts during and after participating in the 1968-1971 VKR-government), the Social Liberals (during and after participating in the 1988-1990 KVR-government) and the Conservatives (in the latter stages of the 2001-2011 VK-government). And then there is of course the “Red Cabinet” of 1966-1967 which led to a major split in SF and years of internal struggle even after the formation of VS.
So as you can see, it is perfectly possible for SF to find itself in a state of internal conflicts and if factional struggles break out, they are likely to weaken the party for a decade with the Red-Green Alliance ready to pick up the spoils.
Even worse: The driving force behind factional strife has generally been a perceived or real lack of political efficacy. The Justice Party was anti-state but failed to stop the expansion of the welfare state (it was also becoming irrelevant because the war rationings had been abolished by the mid-1950s), the Social Liberals were torn between liberal economics and radical cultural policy, the Conservatives were a low-tax party presiding over the biggest increase in taxes in Danish history. And so on, and so forth.
The general agreement is that SF was the big loser in the negotiations and based on historical evidence, this puts the party in a very dangerous situation where internal conflicts could erupt at any moment. And even if the Social Liberals would love to see SF go down in flames, they should think twice before pouring the champagne.
What the Social Liberals should consider is that the Social Democrats continue to be in the electoral doldrums: They have lost votes in every national election since the surprise victory in 1998 and consequently the mobilisation of voters for the left-wing depends of the Social Liberals, SF or the Red-Greens being successful. If SF implodes, this effectively leaves the Social Liberals with the Red-Greens as the only realistic ally in so far that “blue” working-class voters do not revert to the Liberals and the Danish People’s Party as they did during the 2000s making left-wing politics irrelevant.
In fact, the implosion of SF is more than likely to result in another decade of right-wing government after the next election: A result the Social Liberals would grudgingly admit that they would hate even more than having SF in government.
So the Social Liberals are in fact faced with a curious dilemma. While they want to promote the Social Liberal economic programme, they should ideally also consider strategies that could help boosting support for SF. That SF’s leaders haven’t helped themselves by leaving the party organisation in a vacuum following the election is another matter.