Denmark: Right wing wins elections by default

The Danish general elections on June 18th provided victory to the right wing. Venstre (the Liberal Party) is now forming a minority government which will count on the support of the racist and nationalist Dansk Folkeparti (the Danish People’s Party or DPP).

[Note: This article was written before the announcement of the new Danish government. That however does not change our analysis below]

The strong performance of the DPP, who are now the second largest party with 21.2 percent of the votes, has got the attention of the international media. However, the reality is that the outcome of the election was the result, not of the right wing winning, but of the left losing.

No party was able to generate any enthusiasm during the election campaign. The election result reflected not a turn to the right of workers and youth, but a deep mistrust and anger toward the entire political system.

The government of now former prime minster, Helle Thorning-Schmidt -  who is married to Stephen Kinnock, Labour MP and son of former Labour leader Neil Kinnock - has been a catastrophe for workers and youth in Denmark. Her minority coalition government consisted of Socialdemokraterne (Social Democrats), Socialistisk Folkeparti (Socialist People’s Party) and Radikale Venstre (the Social-Liberal Center Party). This was supported from the outside by the most left-wing party in parliament, Enhedslisten (The Unity List).

The previous government presided over cuts to unemployment benefits and benefits for sick workers. They heavily reduced spending on education, crushed the teachers union and sold part of the biggest energy firm in Denmark to Goldman Sachs while lowering corporate tax rate. This is just to mention some of their most prominent initiatives. On the international arena Danish forces participated in the bombing of Libya and Iraq while at the same time the government closed the borders for asylum seekers even more tightly.

In other words, the government which was ousted from power almost completely adopted the policy of the right wing making it hard to tell the difference between the two. This has left its mark on the voters.

Around the last election in 2011 when the Social Democratic coalition government came to power, 60 percent of Danes said they trusted politicians. After four years of broken promises and right wing austerity policies, that number has been reduced to 28 percent. That is the lowest rate ever recorded in Denmark.

But this mistrust in the system has until now found no expression either on the political or industrial front. The number of strikes and mass protests have been historically low since the onset of the crisis in 2008. Cut after cut have seemingly been accepted by the working class and youth, but there is huge frustration and anger building up beneath the surface. Danish society has been like a hermetically sealed pressure cooker.

Right wing in crisis

lars-løkke-rasmussenLars Løkke RasmussenWhile the Social Democratic coalition government has been unpopular the traditional right wing parties have been even more so. The new Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, is leader of the Liberal party. He has been staggering from one scandal to the next and was all but toppled as leader of his party in the beginning of this year. His party was reduced to 19.5 percent of the vote, losing 7.2 percentage points in the recent election, yet his weakened party will now form a government.

The traditional party of the big capitalists, Konservative (Conservatives), is in a mortal crisis and has turned further to the right. In recent years it has continued to fall in the opinion polls and just before the elections they went into complete panic by trying to outdo the racism of the DPP by introducing slogans such as Stop Nazi-Islam-ism! The party only barely reached the electoral threshold and came into parliament with just 3.4 percent of the votes.

So even though the right wing won, the next government will by no means be strong and Lars Løkke Rasmussen will struggle to find a majority in parliament on every individual issue. This will make the government prone to crisis.

Collapse of the traditional ruling parties

In the post war period the combined vote of the four main governing parties in Denmark (Social Democrats, Liberal Party, Conservatives and the Center Party) was around 85 percent. For decades they formed the main political pillars of the ruling class making different government combinations amongst themselves. In the 2011 election, which was the worst election the Social Democrats have had since 1903, their combined share of the vote had fallen to 65 percent. This election they only got 53 percent.

While the traditional parties lost out, the main winners of the election were on the one hand the DPP, who went from 12.3 percent in 2011 to 21.1 percent in this election, and the completely new and untested Alternativet (The Alternative). This last party ran mainly on being “something different” but also advancing slogans such as for a 30-hour work week which were combined with petty bourgeois ideas of entrepreneurship. They went from zero to 4.8 percent of the vote and attracted many young people. This was especially the case in Copenhagen.

The Danish People’s Party

The DPP, which for many years has distinguished itself by its racist positions, didn't focus as much on immigration as much as could have been expected. The Social Democrats and the Liberal Party focussed heavily on racism in attempting ot outdo the DPP. For example, the Social Democrats put up posters and ads saying “Stricter rules for asylum seekers and more demands on immigrants” as well as “If you come to Denmark, you have to work”. This left the playing field open for the DPP who instead attacked the Social Democrats for dismantling the welfare state, that is, they attacked the Social Democrats mainly from the left! The Social Democrats then attacked DPP from the right, for not being "financially responsible".

Under the new leadership of Kristian Thulesen Dahl, the DPP have turned their policies towards a more classic Social Democratic line of defending the welfare state. This is the real basis of their success. They simply catch the disgruntled Social Democratic voters and offer an easy explanation as to why they suffer continuous cuts. They say, "It's the immigrants' fault! They take your job and benefits!" But, the DPP's defence of “the little man” is of course pure demagogy as they have voted in favour of almost every major cut in the last 15 years.

Failure of the left

The last Social Democratic government has taken its toll on the workers' parties. Social Democracy is historically discredited. The Socialist People’s Party, who reached 20 percent in the opinion polls in 2010, were seen as the defender of the welfare state. Initially they participated in the Social Democratic government where they instead had to defend government austerity policies. As the most left party in the government it took a heavy beating, almost collapsing, and had to leave the government at the beginning of 2014. The government's sale of parts of the biggest Danish energy company to Goldman Sachs was the straw that broke the camel's bag.

The Unity List, which is an amalgamation of all sorts of left tendencies, experienced significant growth in its support, reaching 14 percent in the opinion polls in May 2013. This was mainly due to their criticism of the right-wing policies of the Social Democratic government. But, their criticism was just that – words. When push came to shove, for instance in relation to the austerity ridden state budgets, where the minority government needed their votes, the Unity List ended up voting with the government. The argument was that if they did not support the government, the right wing would return to power. In effect they gave the Social Democrats a carte blanche to do what they wanted. Not only that, but the leadership of the Unity List has also been pushing for a “normalisation” of the party (revising its program etc.) to make it more “contemporary”. In effect they want to dilute the revolutionary elements. As a result of all this since 2013 they have been sliding back and ended up getting 7.8 percent of the votes. This is only 1.1 percent better than in the 2011 election and more tellingly they actually lost members in the same period going from 10,000 to 8,700.

In no way did they manage to tap into the massive frustration and anger that exists and give a voice to workers and youth who are sick and tired of endless cuts.

After a weak Liberal government was announced, the Unity List even went as far as to appeal to the DPP, who supports the Liberal government, to make a deal with the socialist parties on the question of unemployment benefits. This can only serve to increase the false pro-welfare image of the DPP.

Class struggle in the making

The failure of the left does not mean, however, that class struggle is off the agenda. Quite the opposite. It only means that no political expression has been given to the massive discontent which is building up. As a matter of fact, the right wing's “victory” could prove pyrrhic. For years the union bureaucracy has been holding back every attempt at mobilising the workers and youth against the cuts for fear of damaging the Social Democratic government and bringing the right wing back to power. But that is exactly what has happened.

A very weak one-party Liberal government representing less than 20 percent of the votes is the mirror image of a system in crisis. But any government coming to power today in Denmark is restricted by two main factors. One is trying to keep their share of the dwindling world market, and especially the important European market, since over half of the Danish GDP is dependent on exports. This means making the workers work harder and paying them less. The other problem is to keep the interest rates at their historically low level (variable rate mortgages are below 1 percent). Danish households are some of the most indebted in the world primarily through mortgages which are held by international investors. This means any uncertainty about the government's intentions on keeping the austerity policies intact risks setting off a sell off of Danish bonds which would be catastrophic for the economy. In other words: more austerity is to come.

The frustrated Danish workers and youth now face a government which has declared its intention to limit their access to high schools, reduce benefits for the uninsured and unemployed workers even further as well as to attack immigrants and asylum seekers, all the while lowering taxes on corporations and the rich. At the same time this government only represents a fifth of the voters.

The labour movement bureaucracy will feel the pressure to organise some kind of a fightback, but this can quickly get out of their control. They have used up huge amounts of their authority in the last four years defending the Social Democratic austerity policies. This is a finished recipe for class struggle.

28 June 2015