Mogens Glistrup, the one-time dadaist of Danish politics, is still railing against bureaucrats and income taxes. But he has begun paying his own taxes, dropped his gag about swapping Denmark's army for a Soviet answering service and even promises he won't touch this welfare state's generous health and pension benefits. Glistrup is trying to scramble on board the right wing of Denmark's broad political concensus.
Anker Joergensen, the modest and plain-speaking prime minister, a Social Democrat, no longer holds out visions of water control in industry. Instead, he promises high-taxed Danes more efficient government and insists on the vital need to limit pay increases to save the country from deeper inflation, unemployment and welfare cuts.
As this small and still relatively successful country goes to the polls Tuesday, the most striking feature of the election campaign has been the absence of genuine debate, of divisive issues among the leading parties.
Unsurprisingly, there is little enthusiasm here for the nation's eighth general election in a dozen years.
If the polls and the politicians are right, Joergensen will ome back as premier, heading a minority government with a somewhat stronger hand.
But the central point is the limited maneuver room for any government here or elsewhere in Northern Europe. The chill winds of stagflation - economic stagnation and inflation - have struck Denmark with even greater force than most.
Since nearly 40 per cent of the country's output is generated by foreign trade, Danish prosperity is crucially dependent on the "economic locomotives," West Germany and the United States. Since neither is exerting much pulling force, the Danish economy has stalled. Regardless of who wins Tuesday, there is likely to be little to growth in anything but the jobless rolls this year.
In the golden 60s and early 70s, incomes, welfare and the taxes to pay for it all rose steadily. There were plenty of jobs, and Turks, Yugoslavs and Pakistanis were invited in to perform the least pleasant. Then came the explosive rise to the price of oil and other commodities and the easy expectation of yearly gains ended.
Denmark is still among the world's richest nations, with a per person income two years ago of nearly $7,000 in purchasing power. But the country is learning to live with an inflation rate just under 10 per cent, a jobless rate deficits. Under Joergensen's chief rival, Poul Hartling of the center-right Liberals, Denmark tried the classic Keynesian remedies. Its 16 per cent inflation was slowed by tight money and fiscal policies. Then the government primed the pump to mop up the resulting unemployment.
But this sucked in imports and, in a flattened world economy, Denmark could not pay for them with bigger sales abroad. "In this international crisis, Denmark can't find a solution alone," Joergensen observed sadly in an interview yesterday.
Against this background, Danish politicis has fractured. A parliamentary system of modified proportional representation encourage minority parties, and the legislature suddenly blossomed forth with 10 groupings instead of the traditional four or five. No less than 12 parties will be on Tuesday's ballot in a country of only 5 million.
Glistrup, a tax lawyer and engaging rascal, burst on the scene in late 1973 to exploit Danish irritation with the world's heaviest tax burden, liberal jobless benefits and lavish state outlays on everything from a subsidized film about Christ's sex life to a $1,700 bathtub for a state production of "Marat/Sade."
Calling for an end to income taxes, demanding that bureaucrats become "useful" truckdrivers or carpenters, Glistrup quickly built up the nation's third-largest party. To conservative Danes, he threatened the social fabric.
Now, Glistrup readily admits that, with about a sixth of the vote, he has reached a plateau, at least until the 1990s. By then, however, he may still be in jail. The current campaign has interrupted his trial on a thousand counts of tax evasion.
But if the Glistrup phenomenon has crested, it has left a lasting effect. Liberal Hartling cut income taxes for the first time this century. Social Democrat Joergensen has cut back services or increased fees for day-care centers, tuberculosis clinics and universities.
The two major political rivals here talk of a more efficient bureaucracy in terms that would not sound strange in Carter's Washington.
There is widespread agreement that the main task of any new government is persuading or compelling the unions to accept an incomes policy, limiting pay increases to relieve the pressure on prices and the foreign payments balances.
Joergensen's warmest backers agree that he called this election primarily in hopes of strengthening his hand in dealing with the unions. He has been governing with the support of four smaller parties to his right.
Unions and employers here strike one big bargain that serves as a framework for individual deals. The current bargain runs out on March 1, and the unions are threatening to breach the 6 per cent limit Joergensen wants them to accept.
Joergensen hopes to coax the unions to a deal with a cautions, tailor-made program to boost export and service jobs. This is the Copenhagen equivalent of London's social contract.
Joergensen's chances will improve if the voters give him and his political allies more seats in this fractured political scene, but he has no hope of winning an outright majority. At best, he looks for another deal with the four parties on his right.Hartling of the Liberals has equally modest ambitions. At best, he hopes for enough strength to pressure Joergensen into striking a deal with him.
This is a world where Danes perceive they have little mastery over their own fate, where sobered politicians offer no blueprints of a glorious future.
The other day in the small town of Maribo, about 500 Social Democratic faithful gathered in a candlelit basketball arena filled with flowers and red union banners. They listened stolidly as Joergensen told them: "In the past, our slogan was, 'Make the good times better' . . . now it is, 'Don't make the bad times worse.'"