Danish elections: A severe defeat for the Social Democracy

On Tuesday February 8, general elections were held in Denmark. The result was a crushing, demoralising defeat to many on the Danish left, especially to the Social Democrats. Andreas Bülow from Socialistisk Standpunkt draws a balance.

On Tuesday February 8, general elections were held in Denmark. The result was a crushing, demoralising defeat to many on the Danish left, especially to the Social Democrats. The Danish Social Democracy is the traditional party of the Danish working class and has more than fifty thousand members. In most elections in the 20th century the party received between 30 and 40 percent of the votes.

However, since the elections in 2001 the party has been in a state of crisis. In the 2001 elections the party dropped from 35.9 to a poor 29.1 percent of support from the electorate. Some people in the party thought that this was just a temporary crisis that could be overcome simply by a change of outlook, a change of style – a change of front figures, a change of chairman, and so on. What they did not grasp was that the crisis of the party is rooted in the acceptance of cutbacks and privatisations, not in this or that individual, but in the lack of genuine socialist policies.

Party Seats Percent 2001
Danish Peoples Party 24 13.2 % + 2
Conservatives 18 10.3 % + 2
Venstre (The Liberals) 52 29.0 % - 4
The Radicals 17 9.2 % + 8
Social-democracy 47 25.9 % - 5
Socialist Peoples’ Party 11 6.0 % - 1
The Unity list (Red-Green alliance) 6 3.4 % + 2
Lykketoft resigns on the eve of his defeat

In the recent elections, the vote for the Social Democracy fell to a disastrous 25.9 percent, thus five seats in parliament were lost. The vote for the Socialist Peoples’ Party (SF) fell to 6 percent, costing them one seat. The only left-wing party to gain any advance was the small Unity list (also known internationally as the Red-Green Alliance), which went from 2.4 to 3.4 percent, giving them two extra seats.

The vote for the right remained stable with a few changes in the strengths of the various right-wing parties. The only opposition party to advance was the small petty bourgeois centre party, the Radicals, whose vote increased from 5.2 percent to 9.2 percent, giving them eight new seats in parliament.

This means that the right-wing government will continue on, while the left has been weakened on the parliamentary front.

The election campaign

The election campaign was mainly focused on issues surrounding the welfare state, such as elder care and childcare, but immigration and unemployment were also big issues. The most striking feature of this campaign was the complete inability of the leadership of the Social Democracy to present a real alternative. It was as if the leader of the party, Lykketoft, was trying throughout the campaign to “convince” the electorate that there was a difference between him and Fogh (the right-wing Prime Minister).

Pia Kjærdsgård, leader of the right-
wing Danish Peoples’ Party

However, it was quite obvious that on some of the fundamental issues the difference between the two seemed non-existent to many people. Lykketoft said that he agreed with the harsh line towards immigrants implemented by the present government. And when Fogh said that he wanted to punish young unemployed people by refusing to give them access to unemployment benefit, Lykketoft stated that “it seemed reasonable and some sort of agreement can be sorted out”. He reminded us that “it was us [the Social Democrats] who made a lot of such reforms in the 90s”.

This reveals quite clearly what many working people still remember. Lykketoft was the Minister of Finance in the Social Democratic government of the 90s. In this position he carried through a lot of counter-reforms. That explains why working people were disgusted when Lykketoft now promoted himself as “the defender of welfare”. The memory of those who are affected by such attacks will inevitably be longer than those who sign them!

The recent sackings of workers at the slaughterhouses and other factories provided the Social Democracy with a most valuable opportunity to challenge the government. But instead of putting forward a genuine class-based policy of nationalisations of the firms threatened by outsourcing, Lykketoft and the others simply proposed to give more education to the workers in order for them to get new jobs in different trades. This is a very contemptuous attitude towards workers who have worked maybe 10 or 20 years in this trade, and it shows that a real alternative was once again missing.

Another striking thing is the complete silence over the Danish participation in the war and occupation of Iraq. A recent opinion poll showed that 63% of the Danish population want troops removed from Iraq (some of them want this to happen immediately, while others want to see this happen by a certain deadline). In light of this fact, it is astonishing that the Social Democrats did not use this issue to reveal the hypocrisy of the government.

The Danish Prime Minister
on a poster

The left-wing party, the Socialist Peoples’ Party, also suffered a setback. This is the result of their turn to the right, a process that culminated in their acceptance of the new EU constitution. Some people who previously voted for them voted for the Unity list. What is significant is that neither of these two organisations was really capable of attracting the layers who have abandoned the Social Democracy. When the mass of workers move, they do not go to these small parties. They move first and foremost through their traditional organisations. In Denmark that is the trade union movement and the Social Democratic Party, and it will be through these organisations that their discontent will find an expression in the future.

Future battles

Some might argue that the results of these elections show that the Danish working class is ignorant and has become “bourgeois”. But they are completely wrong. The fact is that the Danish working class has been involved in a number of important struggles in recent years. The number of working days lost in Denmark as a result of industrial action still remains one of the highest in Europe. Workers are faced with cutbacks, sackings and the threat of outsourcing. Instinctively workers know that something needs to be done, but until now they have tried to find individual solutions to the problems they face at the workplaces. The main reason is the lack of any leadership capable of uniting the struggles and showing a way forward. The trade union leaders continuously call off strikes and appeal for “moderation”. On the political front the policies of the leaders of the Social Democracy are often very difficult to distinguish from those of the right-wing leaders. This is the main reason why the left was defeated in these elections.

However, this situation cannot last forever. The mass of workers will, through their own experience, come to understand the need to reclaim their organisations.

On the eve of the elections, when it was clear that he was going to be defeated, Lykketoft announced that he would resign as chairman of the party. Two different candidates from the inner stratum of the party have already come forward. The chairman of the Socialist Peoples’ Party, Holger K. Nielsen, also resigned after the defeat. The scene is now set for future battles inside the workers’ movement.

The task of reclaiming the movement in order to fight the right-wing policies is indeed an urgent one. The government is already conspiring to implement a whole series of new attacks on the welfare system. They have constituted a special commission to give them “advice” on how to “modify” the welfare system. This commission is composed of some of the most reactionary economists in the country. So far they have concluded that a number of important social benefits should be reduced or even abolished.

This is the goal that Anders Fogh and his government are really aiming for. Behind the smoke screen of “respectability” they will try to abolish the welfare system. But they cannot do so in one go. They have to do it slowly in order to avoid a social explosion. However, there is a limit to what people will tolerate. Once the accumulated anger and discontent finds a political expression the government will be faced with an unprecedented protest movement that will shake the labour movement from top to bottom. In the heat of such events the ideas of genuine socialism will win the ear of left-moving workers and youth.