Alternativet celebrate legacy as Denmark's primary green party, but face a difficult election
Commentary on the Alternativet national conference in Odense this weekend, by Indra Adnan
Following two weeks of Extinction Rebellion, we participated in the annual gathering of Denmark’s green action party – our mothership – Alternativet, in Odense this weekend. Highly charged because Denmark is on the brink of a General Election which has to be called in the next few weeks to stay within the constitutional four-year rule.
There was much to celebrate in their sixth annual gathering. When they first arrived on the scene, there was no other party that put the climate emergency at the top of their agenda. Today, every party in the Parliament with the exception of the two far right parties, has a green policy. Their call for a meat free day in all public institutions has escalated into a huge growth of vegetarian and vegan industry. Having captured 4.8% of the vote in their first three years, they now have 10 national MPs, 20 local parliament MPs, two mayors and a vice mayor in place.
Walking into the same space for the third consecutive year, I felt the familiar mix of warmth, energy and urgency. Not dissimilar in fact to the feeling on Waterloo Bridge and Marble Arch during Extinction Rebellion. Plants soften the hard edges of industrial architecture, vegan food, art and music framing speeches. Deliberation, space for discussion, the leaders serving drinks and listening to concerns. Not the old politics.
And in many ways, it was an extension of the XR experience. In particular, the acute difference between what is being said, heard and felt in the space we gathered and the way it is reported in the mainstream media. If we were to believe the headlines, Alternativet is in melt-down, internally split by petty feuds and challenges to the leadership.
I won’t attempt to address this here: each country has its own context and culture within which parties can sink or swim that I won’t do justice to in this quick report. That Alternativet has made mistakes, had internal disruption with challenges to its leadership, is true. But the extent to which this has dominated the coverage of their campaign has to be questioned in the bigger picture of media culture.
That Alternativet have always been portrayed as the clown party (for their own ironic take on that, see this brilliant video), or the party-party – dominated by young people (they have four candidates under 20 years old) – must surely be a factor.
Yet in the hall, on this day, there was only their signature sense of deep community, and a passionately expressed ambition for people and planet. And yes, overt support for their candidate for the Prime Minister’s office, Uffe Elbaek.
Until this upcoming election, within a proportional system, Alternativet have been part of a progressive coalition. However, this time, with the climate emergency escalating, they decided to stand as independents, making Uffe a candidate for PM.
This move guaranteed them dedicated column inches – for good and bad. In particular it has brought more attention to Uffe Elbaek’s vision for The Next Denmark – a radical convergence of the climate, democracy and work agendas.
In his speech – unofficially transcribed here – Uffe stood in front of the national press and his supporters and tried to make sense of the ‘schizophrenia’ he was now facing. At a time when the rise of climate consciousness demands radical champions, they are facing their own most difficult struggle to survive. Owning the mistakes they made along the way, he nevertheless encouraged those present to push on with their ambitions within the context of a new politics, that brings with it the climate action we need.
Firstly, by standing independently of the two main pollical blocs, Alternativet is challenging the old Left v Right political system. “Climate crisis” Uffe says, “is not a single-issue problem. Our inability to get moving is also due to an entrenched political elite that don’t need to do much to stay where they are. We need at least five or six candidates for PM. Change requires more courage to stand alone, more responsibility for outcomes.”
“Just read our budget, it will make you happy. I found DK 80b to finance the green change” [the budget paper is in translation, but here is their proposal for a Triple Bottom Line].
“A new way to organise government to give people the chance to participate – including Citizens Assemblies. We’re offering 30% cheaper public transport. A better culture for start-ups especially green ones.
“We’ve suggested a constitutional amendment to give Nature its own rights. New measures for gender equality. On top of free healthcare and schooling we’re adding free dental care. We’re making it harder for Denmark to go to war. We are lowering the age of voting in municipal elections.
“And right at the heart of this, is the concept of what is a rich life? Is it really about money? Or is it about the freedom to enjoy Nature. To spend time with your loved ones? Each one of us is an instrument with 5000 strings, but we are only required to use one or two of them in our restricted lives. Life should be an adventure for each one of us – but it is going to take an effort to get to that.
“The media says we are too much. We say the rest of the parties are really not enough. We’ve had a nice message today from Mette Frederiksen of the Socialdemokraterne , but we will stay independent: we have to hold out for real change this time. The world has to come off the hamster wheel – doing the same thing every day, expecting different results. We don’t have enough time left to keep going at the current pace.
“To add to the urgency, two new right-wing parties have been added to the election line up at the last minute, one an extreme, fascist party. It will make the prospect of TV debates even more difficult to negotiate. When you stand by people’s rights to participate and free speech, how can you resist the extremists?
“There are so many obstacles to landing the Alternativet’s urgent message. I may not get to be PM this time, but I don’t regret running. We set a new agenda by doing so and the ambition for achieving will not change whatever the outcome.
“The best we can do is dance with whatever comes towards us. And see the journey ahead of us as an ever-improving dance.”