Last week I paid the studios of Radio 24Syv as short visit to discuss the reputation of Thomas Madsen-Mygdal. Not the internet entrepreneur but his distant relative, the leader of the Liberal Party during the later part of the 1920s and 1930s and Danish prime minister from 1926 to 1929.
Madsen-Mygdal is a curious figure who probably remains in the public memory mostly due to one of the characters in the popular TV series “Matador” singing the “Møjdal Song”, defaming Mygdal as the emeny of social security (this was before the welfare state) and trade unions.
In his day, Mygdal – originally close to the Social Liberals – was indeed a controversial figure: Popular among large farmers and loathed by the labour movement. As it was, he personified the conflict between the rural export based and the urban home-market based economy which defined much of Danish politics during the first half of the 20th century as well as the effects of the currency policy which led to a decade of deflation in Denmark between 1921 and 1932.
In many ways, Mygdal sounds like a Danish Margaret Thatcher with an unerring belief in the market forces and introducing a number of measures designed to cut social benefits and curb the powers of trade unions in an effort to bring down wages in manufacturing and agriculture. If urban workers could be forced to leave for the countryside, so much better for the Liberals.
Unlike Thatcher, Mygdal failed to put a lasting mark on Danish society and economy. One reason was that the times changed: The economic crisis of 1929 eventually led to the introduction of trade regulations as well as the final abolition of the gold standard. This made many of his policies obsolete in the early 1930s.
Another was that his strength lay in organising rural interests and creating a powerful top-level organisation for Danish agriculture and political agigation, not the day-to-day work of parliamentary negotiations. In a complex multi-party system, this was and is an essential precondition for succeeding as a political leader. In 1927, Mygdal managed to introduce social cuts in a spectacularly clumsy way and in 1929 he failed to read the signals coming from the Conservative Party, desperate for a political victory. The result was one of the most spectacular dramas ever seen in the Folketing.
Mygdal left the Folketing and active interest group politics in 1933 but stayed on as chairman of the Liberal Party until 1941. Here his anti-socialism led him to see the German attack on the USSR as a lesser evil and he was forced to resign. Significantly, the official history of the Liberal Party omits all details surrounding Mygdal’s final resignation.
This, however, was not the reason that the City of Copenhagen in 2012 denied Madsen-Mygdal a street which meant that he joined the ranks of anti-parliamentary puppet Otto Liebe (prime minister for five days in 1920) and Erik Scavenius, symbol of the Danish cooperation with the German occupation force during World War II. Mygdal’s “crime” was that he didn’t fit the story of the victorious labour movement of the early 20th century but given the state of the Danish Social Democracy and the regression of economic and social policy to pre-1914 conceptions of public policy, his time – or rather: his street – may still come.
Note: The programmed should be scheduled for December 27. Check Radio 24Syv – Cordua og Steno for details.