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Deep divisions threaten unity of government
Rifts in the government have become increasingly obvious in recent weeks. The three-party government spent over two weeks thrashing out which of their respective policies would – and would not – survive in the coalition government. And now as the government’s direction becomes increasingly apparent, the Socialist People’s Party (SF) has had a hard time hiding their frustration.
The focus of SF’s discontent is taxation, or rather the lack thereof. Their joint election manifesto with the Social Democrats (S) proposed a range of new taxes, such as a tax on millionaires, banks and financial transactions, as well as increased levies on tobacco, alcohol and unhealthy food. But while drinkers, smokers and fast food eaters will all be paying a higher price for their vices, it’ll be business as usual for banks, millionaires and traders.
The abandoned taxes were to be used to finance new social measures, including better hospital treatment, more teachers in classrooms and cheaper public transportation. These were all policies that had to be abandoned in the new common government policy in order to accommodate the Social Liberals (RV).
Speaking to Politiken newspaper, SF’s political spokesperson Jesper Petersen said the compromise was only going to punish the poorest in society while letting the wealthiest off the hook.
“What it means is that there is less money available for policies that would have created more equality, helped the lowest-paid, and contributed to welfare,” Petersen said.
“We are much more about social equality and improving welfare for ordinary Danes who don’t have access to private services. It’s a fight that will continue in the government. We are more preoccupied with social equality because we are a socialistic party. [RV] aren’t.”
Petersen was joined by a range of politicians from S and SF in attacking RV for drawing the government so close to the centre.
“I would rather see us go into the next election with just an S-SF government instead of an S-RV-SF government,” the Social Democratic mayor of Ishøj, Ole Bjørstorp, told Jyllands-Posten. “It would work better because in terms of our views, S and SF are much closer together.”
SF’s chairman of the Greater Copenhagen constituency, Poul Reher Jensen, echoed this view.
“If we want a coalition government where the broadest shoulders carry the most weight, it can’t be together with RV,” Jensen said.
Some SF members have not given up the fight easily however. Last week Jesper Petersen tried to breathe new life into the millionaire tax, stating that even though it was not included in the common government policy, it could still be introduced in a tax reform bill.
That didn’t last long, however. Tax minister Thor Möger Pedersen from SF, prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, and Margrethe Vestager, leader of RV and interior minister, all condemned the tax to its grave.
The decision by members of SF to push their own agenda may have further damaged the integrity of an already fragile government, some political commentators have argued. But it may be a calculated risk – a way of reasserting themselves after a poor election that saw them lose seven seats before being included in a government where their policies seem largely overshadowed by RV.
And it doesn’t help when they are also being criticised by the left. Earlier in October, Frank Aaen, the tax spokesperson for the far-left government ally Red-Green Alliance (EL), insinuated that the tax minister had seemingly colluded with RV.
“Thor [Möger Pedersen] is again reflecting the views of the RV who don’t want banks to pay more in tax even though taxpayers have helped banks through the crisis,” Aaen told Politiken.
But despite deep divisions within the government, there are some voices trying to maintain unity. Ole Hækkerup, the S legal spokesperson, countered SF’s political spokesperson, arguing that while the government was not able to bring in many of the new taxes, they were still making socially responsible reforms.
“SF think RV have weakened the social profile of the new government,” Hækkerup told Politiken. “Nonsense. The removal of welfare benefits for low income people [that are blamed for maintaining cycles of poverty] will do more to fight inequality in Denmark than has been done in the last ten years.”
Last week, SF’s leader Villy Søvndal finally entered the debate in an attempt to silence the critics. In a press release he attempted to point out that while the current government isn’t ideal for any of the parties involved, they had no alternative but to compromise with RV to form a government.
“There is only one choice: an S-RV-SF government or a blue government with [former PM Lars] Løkke at the reigns. Everything else is pure fantasy,” Søvndal wrote. “The biggest differences aren’t between the government parties, but between us and Lars Løkke. We have bid farewell to bloc politics because it’s the only way to take on the large challenges Denmark faces.”
“[Løkke] has created a society where inequality has grown, welfare has been let down and where unfinanced tax cuts has jeopardised the economy.”
The public will take some convincing however. A study released last week by Radius Communication showed minimal support for the SF leader, who was ranked the second-lowest among party leaders in terms of competence and trustworthiness out of the eight main parties. RV’s leader Vestager topped the rankings in both criteria.
While the government’s infighting seemed to have quieted down by the end of last week, the battlelines have clearly been drawn. The question is whether S and SF can convince the public that an unstable centre-left government is preferable to the former Liberal-Conservative party coalition government, which the polls suggest would easily take back power if the elections were held today.