Sunday, September 18, 2011

Denmark: Turning the Tide for Social Democracy?

By John W. Warnock 
Act Up in Sask.
Sunday, 18 September 2011

In a national election on September 15, voters in Denmark chose to dump the conservative government and replace it with a left wing coalition government led by Helle Thorning-Schmidt, who will become Denmark’s first female prime minister. The Social Democratic Party led an electoral coalition which received 50.2% of the vote and won eight more seats than the conservative coalition. In a stark contrast to Canada, 87% of potential voters went to the polls.

But what is most astonishing is that the social democrats and their allies ran on a platform that made a strong pledge to implement a progressive income tax, with higher taxes on those in the upper income brackets. They also proposed a new tax on bank profits. Denmark has hit hard times, and the outgoing conservative government had implemented austerity programs. In contrast to all the other social democratic parties and governments across Europe, the new leftist coalition rejected these programs which fall hardest on the working class and the poor. Instead, they promised to increase public spending. Ms. Thorning-Schmidt declared during the campaign that the contest was “between progressives and the bourgeoisie.”

Some will remember that in the May 2011 federal election, Jack Layton and the NDP pledged to eliminate the budget deficit and balance the budget over four years without raising taxes. They also promised not to cut the military budget. This conservative policy direction followed the pattern of social democratic governments in Europe, New Zealand and Australia.

In Denmark, the shift back to historic social democratic social and economic values was due primarily to the need to form an alliance with other parties to win the election. The “Red Alliance” was headed by the Social Democrats, which took 25.5% of the popular vote. They were partnered with the Social Liberal Party, which took 9.5% of the votes. It is described as a “centre-left” party which stresses human rights, including rights for immigrants. They could join the Red Alliance because in Denmark there is a broad consensus in favour of a comprehensive welfare state and a strong commitment to public education.

The new coalition government will have the support of two political parties on the left. The Socialist Peoples Party, with 9.2% of the vote, and the Red Green Alliance, with 6.7% of the vote, were part of the Red Alliance. They both have a strong commitment to Green policies.

Can social democrats in Canada learn anything from the European experience? In Saskatchewan the NDP has fallen to an all time low of 26% support in the most recent public opinion poll. They are stuck with the neoliberal political agenda developed during the governments of Roy Romanow and Lorne Calvert. After the November 7 provincial election, they will be choosing a new leader and perhaps a new political direction.

1 comment: