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Danish politics for dummies

Don't know anything about Danish politics? Don't worry. This updated 2015 guide will help you mouth off at social events like a total expert. A completely unbiased account, with some classic clips

The Danish welfare system is all about redistributing taxpayers’ money back and forwards in one big merry-go-round until there is nothing left to spend.

Former Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen of the Liberal Party (Venstre) explained this with a straight face in a video clip from a few years ago that, sadly, is not texted in English.

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So we give you the translation. The Danish welfare state system is actually quite easy:

»We have chosen to make a system where you hand over a bit less than you did before. This is what we have chosen to do, and this of course has had the effect that those that earn more, and hand over a lot, and now hand over a little less; that they now hand over more less, than those that earn a little less, and hand over less, but that now hand over less of less«.

Note the deadpan expression on his face when he delivers this key policy statement in parliament. If it wasn’t so ridiculous it would be tragic.

Memorise the above quote, and deliver it whenever you get into a political discussion.

The Liberal (Venstre) and the Conservative (Konservative) parties, supported by the mandates of the right wing anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti), ran things from 2001 to 2011. After nearly ten years in power, the fatigue started to set in and the the Social Democrats headed by Helle Thorning-Schmidt took over after the 2011-election, first supported by both the Social Liberals and the Socialist People’s Party – but the latter left the government In 2014.

So the Liberals and Conservatives are itching to get back into the game. Let us start with the Conservatives:


The former Conservative Minister of Justice Lars Barfoed resigned as chairman of the party in 2014 and surprisingly the unknown mayor of Viborg Søren Pape Poulsen was named his successor.

The Conservative Party has been flirting with the two percent threshold of votes to enter parliament in recent years and the choice of Søren Pape Poulsen was seen by political analysts as a desperate attempt to rejuvenate the party and win new voters. The new chairman is by no means a traditional conservative as he has been open in the media about being homosexual.

See Søren Pape Poulsen wonder why it is still considered exotic to be gay in Denmark on this clip below.
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The Liberal Party, centre-right and ostensibly market-oriented, gets itself into contortions when it at the same time tries to woo Danish voters with ‘welfare state’ rhetoric. ‘Welfare state’ or ‘welfare society’ are phrases that all Danish parties pay homage to in their political rhetoric.

At other times, it is just the strain of being one of the parties of power and holding all those sinecured political positions that is the cause of the schizophrenia.

In this, a classic Danish clip, a former minister is showing a weird mixture of arrogance and strain. Bertel Haarder, then the Minister of Interior and Health, loses patience with a slow-working journalist, then suddenly goes into a manic fit, repeating that he wanted to go home to his wife and eat some rice pudding. Fast forward to 10 minutes to see a politician on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

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Liberal Alliance

Opposition politicians are desperate to get into government so they can secure minister jobs. Add a minister’s pension to that if they are just competent enough to hold down their job for a year.

Anders Samuelsen of the pro-free-market Liberal Alliance is just as desperate as everyone else. But last election campaign he spent more time updating his facebook, than meeting voters and doing politics. His reaction to this revelation was not pretty, as he tries, unsuccessfully, to turn the heat back on the TV journalists.

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Social Democrats

Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the prime minister and leader of the Social Democrats (Socialdemokraterne), is a smooth operator, and hardly ever slips up. So here is one for the fetishists. A shot of her in red raincoat from a few years back.

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She leads a party that is supposed to support the common man, and believes in taxing the rich. But Helle, or Gucci-Helle, has an elitist image. Married to the wealthy son of the former British politician Neal Kinnock, it was a scandal when it turned out that a large part of her household’s income was reported in the tax haven Switzerland. As a Social Democrat, she argues against privatisation. Luckily for her, her own kids are packed off at a private school.

She was booh’ed and heckled at the traditional workers’ day event 1 May in the Fælledparken in 2014.
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But internationally she is arguably most well-known for being caught taking a girlish selfie with herself, US president Barack Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron at the serious Nelson Mandela memorial event. She has still not released the actual photo she took that day. Maybe she should do so in this campaign!

Socialist People’s Party

Being in power isn´t that great for a socialist. It´s just not fun to have to make hard choices instead of criticizing the responsible government parties from the sidelines. So the Socialist People’s Party left the government in 2014 and is now back in great shape.

The present leader Pia Olsen Dyhr took over in February 2014. She takes pride in being a real socialist whose mum was a cleaning lady and whose father was an alcoholic.

Warning: This campaign video is not much fun – but it certainly beats the record for political correctness.
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Only slip: None of the people on this bus trip actually look like they are having fun. And none of the people on the Copenhagen bus seem to be talking to each other. Realistic? Maybe. But good for a positive, inclusive feeling? Maybe not.

Red-Green Alliance

To the left of the Socialist People’s Party, out on the fringe, the Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten) is the Robin Hood of politics and wants to tax the rich, and share everything out to the poor. Hang on to your wallets – with ‘the rich’ they actually mean – you! They do have one attraction however: Their candidate Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen. She is cute and makes funny sarcastic remarks that make the old men look silly.

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Danish People’s Party

The Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti), doesn’t like immigrants. But the party does like old people. They are not much fun.

But in this, classic, clip, candidate for parliament Alex Ahrendtsen is being interviewed for his election video at the ghetto Vollsmose, a ghetto that in Danish happens to sound like ‘violent swamp’.

He is interviewed by a fake ‘immigrant type’ with an ‘immigrant’ accent, while ‘an old lady’ is attacked by an ‘immigrant’ behind him.

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Social Liberals

The Social Liberals like immigrants and believe that Denmark should be a part of the world. This said they are extremely hard to pin down. They are the masters at playing off the two sides against each other, always somehow ending up as the party in the balance and kingmaker when a governing coalition is to be formed.

There is absolutely nothing half-way amusing to relate about them. Leader Margrethe Vestager left the government for a better job as a Commissioner at EU In 2014 (so much for believing in winning the coming election) and was replaced by Morten Østergaard, but he is just as boring.

The Alternative

The new party, Alternativet (The Alternative) was formed in November 2013 by the former Minister of Culture Uffe Elbæk who used to be with the Social Liberals.

Uffe Elbæk had to resign as a minister because he had used taxpayers money for expensive events at the so-called Academy of Untamed Creativity (Akademiet for Utæmmet Kreativitet) was a secretary and where he Uffe Elbæk had been a member of the board himself. An investigation later acquitted him of any wrongdoing. The Alternative Party is considered by observers to be politically naïve. The key issues are environmental, social and economic sustainability.

In a 2014 campaign video for the new party (go to 0:50 seconds in), a taciturn but stylish-dressed young woman stops a weird, fake fight in front of two ‘rejsekort’ travel card check-in terminals. Let us put it this way: The Alternativet video, it … ahem … invites interpretation.

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National Party

The National Party (Nationalpartiet) sounds like a right wing nationalist party, but it´s not. The party explained the reasoning behind its cryptic naming process on the University Post here.

It was formed in 2014 by the three brothers Aamer, Asif og Kashif Ahmad who are of Pakistani descent. They think that Danish values like respect, tolerance and peaceful coexistence are under attack from the right wing. Among other things, they want to abolish the law stating that a Dane cannot marry a foreigner and bring their spouse back to Denmark if he or she is less than 24 years old.

One of the key candidates running for Nationalpartiet is the poet Yahya Hassan who sold more than 100,000 copies of his first collection of poems. Unfortunately he wasn’t told that politicians have to speak briefly and use soundbites. So his first speech was 55 minutes, yes 55 minutes, long. And it bored everyone silly.

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The party is still trying to get the number of signatures needed to be allowed to run at the election.

The spin-doctors

One thing is for certain. This coming election will, as always, be an election for the spin-doctors. In this scene from the last elections’ TV duel, spin doctors had advised the then Prime Minister Lars Løkke-Rasmussen to spring a surprise on the tall blonde Social Democrat candidate Helle Thorning-Schmidt. Everything is going fine, and the candidates are discussing the housing gridlock and the financial crisis. Then Lars Løkke decides to take centre stage (at 1:00).

What he didn’t have was an exit strategy. After her initial shock, Helle Thorning coolly picked him apart. And the TV host didn’t help by giving Prime Minister Løkke a friendly half-hug saying to Helle Thorning ‘Don’t worry, I will hold him back’. Not to be outdone, towards the end of the clip, Socialist People’s Party’s Villy Søvndal tries to move onto centre stage as well, devaluing Løkke’s move completely and making both of them look silly in the process.

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What most people don’t realise, and this clip has been analysed to death, is that Lars Løkke Rasmussen is using an old strategy by Al Gore in his campaign to topple George W. Bush in the 2000 US election.

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As you can see above, for Al Gore this didn’t go so well either. Will they ever learn?

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