The Imitation Game: Denmark’s Social Democrats Can Show Starmer the Path to Power | Mario Laghos
By now it’s become a trite observation to say that Social Democracy is in crisis across the West – but it is. The voters which Social Democratic parties were founded to represent, white and working class in a majoritarian sense, have defected in large numbers to parties of the political right. In France the Socialists were ousted by Macron and his insurgent En Marche! party, and he himself is now besieged by Le Pen’s National Rally, who look increasingly competitive in the upcoming Presidential race. In Italy the right-wing Salvini has emerged as the most popular leader in the country, in no small part because of inroads he and his party have cut through traditional socialist territories. In Germany the Alternative for Deutschland party have gone from the fringe to the forefront of German politics, and now constitute the largest opposition party in the Bundestag, in large part because of growing support from poorer East Germans. And in the UK, the Labour Party suffered a once in a century defeat to the Tories, thanks to the defection of its core voters in so called Red Wall seats. At the heart of Social Democratic failures at the ballot box is a value disconnect between the politicians and the people. In short – left-wing parties have gone from representing the workers, to representing the wokesters. UK Labour’s ranks are now overwhelmingly comprised of middle-class graduates – Just 3% of the present intake of Labour MP’s have a working-class background – and the parties’ values and policies naturally reflect its constituent parts. British Labour have moved so far away from their traditional base on the issues of law and order, civil and cultural defence, family, patriotism and immigration that workers and retirees wracked by the memories of deindustrialisation chose to elect a Bullingdon boy over a Bennite, and by a landslide no less.
Although there are questions of fiscal competency that dog the British Labour party, the British people do want to see radical economic change, and they correctly identify the Labour party as being the party most likely to enact the kinds of reforms they want to see. Unfettered free markets and dog-eat-dog capitalism runs afoul of the British sense of fair play – 74% of the public agree that ‘big business takes advantage of ordinary people’ compared to just 18% of Tory MPs who would say the same. But, despite standing on a policy platform that resonates with voters on economic issues, the Labour party now stand in direct opposition to their traditional voters on socio-cultural questions. The ‘Why’ of it is unclear, but the what, is not – the left have abandoned the somewhere’s, the modernisation losers, and the provincial, in favour of the anywhere’s, the winners and the metropolitan. The party believes it is the duty of small C conservative and working-class voters to support Labour whatever, rather than the duty of Labour to support those voters. To take such a stand is a terminal diagnosis for any political project, and yet these tendencies have become ubiquitous amongst the European left, with predictable results. With exception – Denmark’s Social Democratic Party.
While Labour was languishing in opposition, The Danish Social Democratic Party governed from 2011 to 2015 under the premiership of Helle Thorning-Schmidt, and returned to power in 2019 under the leadership of Mette Frederiksen. Unlike their contemporaries, who try to re-educate, lecture or hector the electorate, the Social Democrats do not shy from listening to, and learning from the voters. They telegraphed to voters that they understood that mass migration threatens social cohesion, and societal trust, and were prepared to take action. They acknowledged multiculturalism was not without difficulty, and sought to implement measures that would ensure immigrants integrated, rather than isolated. In embracing the popular will, and enacting it, they remain a competitive political force – which is as unsurprising as it is offensive to the sensibilities of the modern liberal left.
There was a time when the political right were the premiere champions of globalism. They saw the free movement of people and capital as the most efficacious model by which to reduce the price of consumer goods and maximise the growth of GDP. But now, the worker’s movement can credibly claim to be the most zealous worshipper of exponential GDP growth, and the loudest cheerleaders for globalism. But not in Denmark – Frederiksen has been explicit in calling out the threat that globalisation poses:
‘For me, it is becoming increasingly clear that the price of unregulated globalisation, mass immigration and the free movement of labour is paid for by the lower classes’
There can be no doubt of the truth of this claim: working class people have had their high-quality manufacturing jobs outsourced, and their well-paid construction work undercut. They do not benefit from affordable au-pairs, nor do they have the luxury of gated communities within which they can hide away from the impact of mass migration without integration. The theoretical right to luncheon in Paris never outweighed the economic fact of wage depression nor the social realities of multiculturalism. That’s why the working-class voted for Brexit, and the middle classes didn’t.
Frederiksen’s Social Democrats have been willing to back up their rhetoric with material policy changes. In acknowledging the strains of migration on the Danish welfare state, they endorsed and voted for policies which sought to ease the burden on their creaking social safety net. On culture, they took a stand which would make Boris blush – voting in support of a Burqa ban, and with respect to asylum seekers, they endorsed the idea that they ought to be repatriated, rather than integrated. They have been explicit in stating that the Danish welfare state demands reciprocity, and are unafraid to call out groups in the society who are not pulling their weight – and introduced reskilling programmes and language classes to ensure those people are given the tools to give back. Some of the policies they put forward in opposition, such as isolating foreign criminals on an island prison, were jettisoned at the behest of other left-parties when they came to form a government contingent on their support – but never the less, the restrictions on migration and the policies which defend Danish culture remain robust.
The Danish model is an exemplar for UK Labour to follow, and when one examines Starmer’s new look politics, it’s clear they think so too. Starmer couches his critiques of the government in the language of patriotism and family – some of his most popular refrains have been lifted almost verbatim. Starmer’s insistence that he wants Britain to be the ‘best country to grow up in and the best country to grow old in.’ bears a striking resemblance to one of the opening lines of the 2019 Social Democrat document, a fair future for Denmark:
‘We must strengthen our welfare again. So that Denmark becomes the world’s best country in which to be a child, so that there is more time for care in the health sector, and so that everyone can look forward to an old age characterised by safety and dignity.’
As the local elections approach, Labour have commissioned attack ads on social media, targeted at Red Wall seats accusing the Conservatives of overseeing an ‘open border’ policy. The adverts are accompanied by imagery which is not dissimilar to Farage’s infamous breaking point poster. Its clear Labour are now willing to talk the talk, without regard for the agitation it provokes amongst the backbenches. But they are not willing to walk the walk – the Labour platform is devoid of tangible policy proposals, and often attempts to straddle both sides of the line. They want to look tough on border security to northern voters, while branding efforts to curtail illegal channel crossings as inhumane to appease their liberal support. They drape themselves in the Union Flag but take the knee for BLM, an anti-national movement that so disgracefully desecrated the Cenotaph. The Labour Shadow Home Secretary simultaneously briefs he wants criminals to fear a knock on the door from the cops, but won’t even endorse stop and search. This attempt to please everyone, inevitably pleases nobody, which is why as far advanced as we are into a badly mishandled pandemic, the Conservative party still command a strong polling lead over Labour, and are set to retain the West Midlands and Teesside Mayoralties in the May elections.
Voters cannot be duped or tricked; they know what’s up. Rhetoric can only take you so far before the electorate demand action. Standing in front of a flag does not a patriot make. Reframing old policies about childcare as being pro-family, or picking and choosing the fluffiest excerpts of the New Testament to hold aloft as evidence of an embrace of Christian values are transparent gestures. Performance art will never suffice in place of policy. Still after four consecutive defeats, and facing down the barrel of a disappointing local election – Labour has nothing to say about multiculturalism, social conservatism, the virtue of a traditional family unit or the importance of the nation state as a tool to unite the population. There is a gap in the market for the Danish model in Britain – 70% and more of the public routinely confess to pollsters that they believe present levels of immigration are too high. Brexit succeeded only because populations which felt culturally threatened sensed an opportunity to reject globalisation and seized it with both hands. But as of yet it is unclear as to whether Starmer has the nerve or the acumen to remake Labour in the mould of Frederiksen’s party. Frederiksen sacked one of her spokespeople for criticising her support of the burqa ban – a policy Brits back 2 to 1 – and was explicit in her refusal to compromise on her rightward shift on immigration. But Starmer is hobbled by a party comprised of MPs and members who are radically to the left of their own metropolitan support base – over half of Labour’s 2019 vote support tougher sentences for criminals, compared to just 24% of Labour MP’s. The road to victory for Labour has been paved by Denmark’s Social Democrats, but there is a toll to be paid. Labour MP’s must perform an about face, or be replaced. Failing to do so would be to sleepwalk into a foreseeable fifth defeat.