Over at Social Europe, the Danish political scientist Peter Nedegard notes that the Danish Social Democratic Party finally admitted its core supporters (1) don't like liberal immigration policies; and (2) cannot be lectured, browbeaten, or bribed into liking them.
So the party did something shocking, irresponsible, and populist:
The Danish Social Democratic Party (SD) has recently changed course on immigration policy in a more restrictive direction. This change of policy is marked and should attract international interest. There are also certain indications that a similar change is in the pipeline in the other Nordic Social Democratic parties.
This policy change already seems to have borne fruit for the SD. While support for other European Social Democratic parties is generally in free fall, the Danish party is gaining in favour. The odds point to a Social Democratic take-over by the next general election (replacing the present center-right government) with the party chair, Mette Frederiksen, as prime minister.
Several factors lie behind the Social Democratic policy change on immigration.
First, welfare state ideology. SD believes itself to be the prime sponsor of the Danish welfare state. As various scholars have pointed out, there is a fundamental contradiction between a very liberal immigration policy and the survival of the welfare state. A welfare state simply cannot afford anything other than a restrictive immigration policy if welfare arrangements are to remain at a reasonable level. This has now been fully agreed upon by the Danish Social Democratic leadership.
The contradictions between a liberal immigration policy and the continued existence of the welfare state has most recently been emphasized in an analysis from the Danish Ministry of Finance, which shows that immigration from third world countries costs the Danish exchequer more than DKK 30 billion (€4bn) a year. This, of course, means a loss of public money which cannot at the same time be spent on the welfare state’s core activities....
Another factor behind the policy change is due to the party’s history. A leading SD member of the Danish Parliament, Mattias Tesfaye, (trained as a mason and with a Danish mother and an Ethiopian father) has recently published the book Welcome, Mustafa where he reconstructs the history of Social Democratic immigration policy. In this reconstruction, genuine Social Democrat grass-roots favor a tight and restrictive immigration policy, which, according to Tesfaye, regrettably was departed from in the period from the early 1980s until today. According to this reconstruction, a very liberal immigration policy and true social democracy relate to each other like fire and water.
Unfortunately, according to Tesfaye, the Social Democratic Party missed this fundamental truth for several decades when it was seduced by academic proselytes....
The third factor behind the policy change is due to the simple desire for survival. The Social Democratic leadership has observed how traditional working class voters have gradually left social democratic parties for more anti-immigration parties in Denmark as well as in other European countries. In Denmark, the Danish People’s Party (DF) has indeed taken a large part of the working-class vote, which would otherwise have been a safe bet for SD. At the same time, several Social Democratic leaders have mocked DF, which, among other things, has been called ‘not house-trained’. In many workers’ ears, however, it has been an insult directed against them.
Electoral research in Denmark has shown that many recent general elections have been decided on the basis of which parties voters expect to deliver the highest standards of non-liberal immigration policy.
European center-left parties have been massacred in election after election, and one of the reasons is that working-class and lower-middle-class voters don't trust them on immigration. Those voters are right.
In many of those parties, the idea (sometimes expressed openly, usually not) was to create a "new bloc" of social democratic voters by importing more immigrants, and publicly embracing immigrants and immigration.
It didn't work as well as they'd hoped, since it turns out that once they settle in, these immigrants: (1) have conservative social values; and (2) are no more eager than native Danes or Frenchmen to face fresh competition from new waves of unskilled immigrants willing to work for peanuts. Oddly enough, immigrants seem to have agency and a desire to protect their own bottom-line interests. Who could have known?
Meanwhile, the former social democratic base of low-skilled workers began to wonder whether the politicians who claimed to represent them cared any more about people actually living right now in France, England, or the Netherlands than they did about people who wanted to live there in the future. Not a good thing for voters to be wondering about.
Of course, a mere change in rhetoric won't be enough. Voters don't trust social democrats to do what they say, and that attitude is quite justified. It's probably too late.
We'll just have to see if this crazy experiment in giving your voters what they want, not what they hate succeeds.