Picture: Uffe Elbaek at the Change: How? festival. Photo credit: Anders Lorenzen
In an almost unseasonably warm Sunday noon in February, nearly half a year ago, I made my way to an old London night club, which for the day had been transformed into what the organizers of Change: How? described as a political festival.
I was particularly keen to hear one speaker, a Danish politician called Uffe Elbaek. He is not a global name, at least not yet, but maybe he could be that in the future as he is creating a bit of a political revolution in my home country.
In 2012 he resigned as Minister of Culture in Denmark's Social Democratic- led government, to become an independent MP, and in 2013 he went on to co-found the party, The Alternative.
As the Danes go to the polls on the 18th of June, I wanted to recall that Sunday in February when, after listening to Elbaek's speech, I sat down with him and asked what made The Alternative different.
Briefly, Elbaek defined The Alternative as a new entrepreneurial green party, but also said it was much more than a party. It is also a movement, a think thank and an educational forum. The Alternative wants to make the case for a new kind of sustainable system that would focus on three key themes: a system that would be sustainable economically, socially and environmentally.
But globally Denmark is already seen as a leader in many of these areas, as the Danish version of capitalism is seen by others as one of the most sustainable. Denmark has one of the best welfare systems in the world and has an increasingly green system of energy production and transition which is admired internationally. So I asked Elbaek," what is it that Denmark still needs to do better ?"
''We're doing the right things in Denmark for sure, but ........., if you look at our carbon footprint, we're the nation with the fourth highest. So there is a gap between ambition and reality........ Despite Denmark still having a great welfare system, the gap between rich and poor is widening, and there is less trust in mainstream politicians and parties, thus the idea of Denmark as paradise on earth is exaggerated.
Challenging the need for continuous growth and the environmental consequences of growth, he said: "We don't have all the solutions, but we want to create a debate about a future sustainable economic system. The bottom line should be that we can't sustain an economic system where we are using up all of the earth's material resources.. Some parts of the world need to reduce consumption, while others need to increase in order to help people out of poverty and improve living standards. To do that we need to transform the NGO, private and public sectors into a hybrid model, where we take the best of all three sectors"..
Elbaek distanced himself from other green parties who generally sit far to the left. On some issues he said for sure he was leaning to the left but on others he occupied the middle ground. But he seems to suggest that a far more pro-business agenda is needed than many socialist and green parties are willing to discuss. To deal with our challenges we need a pro-entrepreneurial spirit. He finished our chat stating: 'We don't want a bigger state, we want a bigger society'.
Just a few a months ago The Alternative secured enough signatories to win a place on the Danish ballot paper, and the latest opinion polls suggest that 4% of Danes would vote for the party. In Denmark's proportional representation voting system this translates to 8 MP's, and crucially Elbaek and The Alternative would have just as many seats as the party he left, which currently stands also to receive 8 seats - a big setback from the current 17.
There is no doubt that Elbaek wants to reshape the modern green movement, a green movement in which all ministerial departments in government would be part of the green agenda. He seems to believe that the threat of climate change, the loss of biodiversity, and the environmental impact of our continuing consumption is so urgent that we need to rethink how we deal with these issues. I tend to agree and I, for sure, will keep a close eye on The Alternative come June the 18th.
You can read more about the Alternative here.