In September, Sweden’s Social Democrats returned to power with a minority administration amid a rising tide of anti-immigrant politics. 3 months on and things have not got much better. On December 3rd,after his budget was spectacularly defeated, Prime Minister Stefan Lövfen announced a general election for March.
After winning the election in September, things didn’t start out too badly for Stefan Lövfen’s new Social Democrat-led government. Honouring Sweden’s impressive progressive foreign policy traditions (recalling the leadership shown on South African apartheid, for example) the new government set about the formal recognition of the State of Palestine. Sweden was the first EU member to do this (some, like Poland, had done so before joining the EU) and this act set off a chain of similar parliamentary endeavours across Europe, including an attempt in our own parliament here in Britain.
The international plaudits, briefly received, couldn’t hide the difficult parliamentary reality handed to the Social Democrats upon returning to power. Needing 175 seats in the Rikstag, and getting only 112, a minority administration beckoned. The hard right anti-immigrant Swedish Democrats stole the show at the election and became the Rikstag’s third largest party. Each of the Rikstag’s parties, from the right and the left, however vowed not to allow this party led by Jimmie Åkesson into their prospective coalitions.
This did not prevent the Swedish Democrats from aiding the recently ousted centre-right coalition (‘the Alliance’), formerly led by Henrik Reinfeldt, from pulling off a political heist previously unseen in Swedish politics. Usually, as determined by parliamentary convention, when the government can only form a minority administration it can pass their budget courtesy of a parliamentary convention where the opposition abstains when a budget Bill comes to a vote. On this occasion, not only did the centre right Alliance choose to vote down the ruling Social Democrat-Green budget but they offered their own alternative! With the assistance of the hard right Swedish Democrats this opposition budget passed. The embarrassing defeat for Stefan Lövfen’s government prompted him to call a new general election in March.
In the UK this sort of high octane politicking in the passing of the government’s budget doesn’t happen. We marvel at recent nonsense in Washington and the politics of ‘shut downs’ as a great spectacle, although breathe a sigh of relief that we don’t have to endure them here (or perhaps only some of us (?)). Swedish politics is taking on similar a nastier more combative edge, but even this new turn toward ultra-Machiavellian budget politics is not where things are nastiest.
Immigration politics and rising right-wing populism
Immigration and racial politics, like in much of Europe, has become increasingly important in Scandinavia. The rise of the hard right Swedish Democrats is one not wholly different to that of UKIP in Britain. Both made big gains in the European Parliament elections and both had charismatic leaders; the Swedish Democrats got to test their mettle in a general election much sooner however. The Islamophobic content of the Swedish Democrats was also much more pronounced than here in Britain, even if we discount the unofficial rantings of some of Nigel’s foot soldiers. The anti-EU rhetoric, although present, was less prominent as with UKIP as was the resulting emphasis on migrants from eastern Europe. Jimmie Äkesson is now now longer leading the Swedish Democrats, having taken prolonged a mysterious sick leave after the general election in September, and has been replaced by a less effective leader. So how will the Swedish Democrats do in March? Will they lose the gains they made in September? Or is immigration politics still too potent and toxic for them not to retain or build on these? If the Swedish Democrats lose seats, will their votes go the centre-right Alliance parties? or elsewhere?
Upon speaking to one Swede who writes for the national press, we found a view that pointed toward further gains for the Swedish Democrats in March; despite Jimmie Äkesson’s successor not being as impressive at the party’s helm. In Britain, UKIP voters overwhelmingly view the Conservatives as their alternative preference, particularly given the similarities on immigration rhetoric and policies. Swedish Democrat aligned-voters however cannot have their second preferences placed in with any of centre-right ‘Alliance’ parties in Sweden given their support of the open immigration consensus that prevails among these parties. The exception is the Christian Democrats who have recently unveiled tough new anti-migrant policies but as a party are small and insignificant. The pro-immigration consensus is quite resilient; unfortunately so too is the anti-immigrant bloc among the voting public who only have the Swedish Democrats to reach for.
It appears, sadly, that this toxic immigration politics might be a feature for some time. Given scarier evidence in neighbouring Denmark, that has already unveiled highly draconian immigration policies, it appears that Scandinavia is far from immune from a continental post-Lehman wave of anti-immigrant politics. Different countries will manifest this differently and some longer than others.
March will tell us a good deal how whether September’s elections was the high water mark in Sweden or not.
CHARTIST’s web editor was in Sweden in December and September. It was wetter than he thought.