Lessons from Uffe Elbæk and Denmark’s Alternativet

It’s said that ‘what goes up, must come down’. How do we make sure that this isn’t the case with the fight for a Good Society? In the UK, as across the world, there’s no shortage of appetite for transformative social change, but the movements that promise to harness those appetites seem to fizzle out all too regularly. Progressives have to find a way to buck the trend. 

We recently celebrated reaching several milestones at Compass. Soon after marking our 20th anniversary in October, we reached 3000 members, and we recently surpassed 100,000 downloads on our podcast, It’s Bloody Complicated. We have a growing network of local groups, making the case for a Good Society at the grassroots, and our campaign, Win As One, is gaining momentum all across the UK. How to build upon these successes – to make sure that our movement for a more equal, democratic and sustainable society continues to go up and not down – is a question that we’re all considering. 

In October, the team at Compass were joined by Uffe Elbæk – someone who’s spent more time than most thinking about this problem. Uffe was elected to Denmark’s Parliament in 2011, representing the Social Liberal Party, and soon after was appointed Culture Minister in the Danish Government. Disillusioned with his own Government, in 2013, Uffe began to reflect on new ways of doing politics. His atypical political background lent itself to this kind of reflection: before his Parliamentary career, Uffe was involved in forming Kaospilot, an innovative education provider, and various other social action projects and organisations working for change outside of Parliament.

Uffe shared with the Compass team the design model that he used in 2013, when motivated to form a new and powerful way for progressives to champion transformative change in  Denmark. A new political party was the result of Uffe’s reflection, The Alternative, which saw nine MPs elected in the first General Election it contested. But Uffe was keen to stress the importance of the means by which this party came about. It was through a careful process of reflection that an idea transformed into a concept, and ultimately gave rise to concrete action.

The design model used by Uffe transforms an idea into a concept, and eventually into an action, by attending to various considerations in a particular order. For instance, the model encourages clarification of the purpose of the idea, and the values central to it, before deciding on a specific concept. In Uffe’s own case, this had huge repercussions for the concept chosen. Those involved in the project thought about the values they took to be missing from Danish politics and realised that humour was one of them. The General Election campaign run by The Alternative after its formation therefore intended not only to win popular support by being empathetic, courageous, transparent and generous, but funny, too. This was crucial to its electoral success, and was facilitated by the design model.

In a Q&A that followed Uffe’s presentation, the Compass team was able to ask more about Uffe’s own experience in politics, and his thoughts on building movements with longevity. It was a wide-reaching and honest conversation about what works and what doesn’t, touching upon the lessons learned from and by such movements as Occupy Wall Street, Greenpeace and Amnesty International.

The question remains open, of how to make sure that the movement for a Good Society goes up but doesn’t come down, especially given Denmark is one of the many European countries with Proportional Representation, which we lack, and has a political culture quite different to our own. That said, there’s much to learn from our international allies and changemakers like Uffe, who are watching the UK excitedly and generously extending a hand of friendship.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Compass started
for a better society
Join us today