Post-election reflections from Nick Aylott:
A very stimulating post-election seminar organised by the Centre for Business and Policy Studies (SNS), which I attended today (Monday), has added to the reflections that have been aired by politicians and journalists about the remarkable outcome of the Swedish election yesterday.
It goes without saying that much of the discussion was about the breakthrough of the SWEDEN DEMOCRATS into parliament with 20 seats.
No one suggests doing anything other than isolating them in parliament, despite the conciliatory comments of the Sweden Democrats' leader, Jimmie Åkesson, on TV last night. (The Left Party leader refused to sit in the same make-up room as Åkesson before their appearances on Swedish Television.) But there is a divide about how the political mainstream ought to react.
One lot wants simply to "fight racism". For example, a leading Green talked repeatedly about resisting the Sweden Democrats' "depiction of reality", by which he meant that they should not be allowed to set the policy agenda in the way that the Danish People's Party has in Denmark. But there are others who fear that this means, in practice, a continuation of the mainstream parties' reluctance to discuss at all the issues that the Sweden Democrats have exploited so successfully. One speaker at today's seminar advocated explicitly a much franker debate about both the benefits and the problems that immigration has involved.
Then there's the PARLIAMENTARY SITUATION, in which the governing Alliance seems set to end up, agonisingly, three seats short of a majority. The government has said all along that, in this sort of situation, it would approach the Greens about a deal, and it confirmed today that it will do so once all the pre-election-day votes are counted and the final result is clear, on Wednesday. Could we, then, see a four-party coalition acquiring a fifth member? Could the Greens' leaders be tempted by the prospect of ministerial jobs here and now, rather than four years in the political wilderness? Might they have become so exasperated by association with the Left Party's toxic brand that they're prepared to abandon their red-green allies?
Probably not. Committing your party to one of two rival pre-electoral coalitions, and then defecting to the other one as soon as yours loses, would be pretty hard to sell to members and voters. But that leaves the government in a dreadful bind. It's not really a question of how it will survive in office as a minority, but rather how it will manage anything beyond that. Let's say that it proposes a fifth increment in its flagship policy, the earned-income tax credit. The red-greens, of course, say no. But the Sweden Democrats turn round and say yes, all right. What does the government do then? As my colleague Flemming Juul Christiansen has shrewdly put it, "we imagine a situation in which a party, however much disliked by the others, unconditionally and without any bargaining, support proposals of the government. Will then the very fact that such a party supports the proposal become a problem for the proposal in itself?" The short answer is: yes.
Parliament reopens on October 5th. Inter-party discussions before then will be fascinating and, indeed, gripping.
Naturally, the SOCIAL DEMOCRATS' disastrous performance, their worst for 96 years, was also a hot topic at the seminar.
Say what you like about the party leader, Mona Sahlin, you can never write her off. She was very clear last night about the Social Democrats' "very bad" result. Yet it seems that she intends to carry on in her job, and there is no immediate indication that her party wants to kick out its sitting leader, which would be a first. Still, there is some acknowledgement that the Social Democrats didn't do well from their alliance with the Greens and, especially, the Left. Perhaps now the party will have the far-reaching debate about its future that it signally avoided after the resignation of Sahlin’s predecessor.
Above all, it has to re-establish a connection with the prosperous bits of Sweden, especially in the big cities, where the party's dramatic decline continued (it won just 22% in the Stockholm municipal election). The red-greens' belated focus on government reforms of various welfare services, and particularly on individual cases of heartless treatment, certainly seemed to stave off the electoral meltdown that threatened a week or so ago. But, as one participant pointed out at the seminar, it was essentially the tactics of an opposition, rather than of an aspiring government. Cross-class appeal was always the secret of the Social Democrats' political success, and, somehow, that's what they need to recover.
That result in full (as of Monday afternoon):
Left Party 5.6% (-0.3%)
Social Democrats 30.9% (-4.4%)
Greens 7.2% (+2.0%)
Centre Party 6.6% (-1.3%)
Liberals 7.1% (-0.4%)
Christian Democrats 5.6% (-1.0%)
Moderates 30.0% (+3.9%)
Sweden Democrats 5.7% (+2.8%)
Turnout 82.1% (+1.7%)
Source: Election Authority http://www.val.se/val/val2010/slutresultat/R/rike/index.html
We can also recommend could also recommend Jacob Christensen's insightful reflections which can be found here http://jacobchristensen.name/ and the Swedish Radio’s programme from Sunday evening http://sverigesradio.se/cgi-bin/international/nyhetssidor/sandningsarkiv.asp?date=19/09/2010&programID=2054 (available until 18 October 2010).
Malin & Lee
Malin Stegmann McCallion Dr Malin Stegmann McCallion
Fil Dr, Universitetslektor Senior Lecturer/Assistant Professor
Statsvetenskap Political Science
Karlstads universitet Karlstad University
Universitetsgatan 2 Universitetsgatan 2
651 88 Karlstad 651 88 Karlstad