Will likeable Sweden recover its mojo?

Will likeable Sweden recover its mojo?

by Tom Gallagher
article from Monday 10, September, 2018

SWEDEN, the land of proverbial calm, faces an uncertain future because of an ill-advised drive by the previous two governments (one centre-right, the other on the left) to take in large numbers of refugees and asylum seekers from some of the world’s worst trouble-spots (many being unaccompanied minors).    

Numerous places from Stockholm and Gothenburg, the two largest cities, to Malmo and satellite towns in the far-south, are reeling from this step. It was almost as impetuous as King Charles XII’s invasion of Russia three hundred years ago, one historically-minded Swede recently remarked.   

The election campaign was dominated by immigration and law-and-order issues. The economy took a back seat even though Swedish industry is losing ground thanks to ruthless competition from china. Foreign policy hardly figured even though Sweden, in some eyes, is now largely defenceless in the face of a bellicose Russia, after the last centrist Prime Minister slashed defence spending.    

The rise of the populist Sweden Democrats focussed world media attention on the country’s normally bland politics. During the campaign, its rivals vied with each other to lecture voters about the dangers it posed to Sweden’s good name. The outgoing Prime Minister Stefan Lofven branded them ‘a neo-fascist, single-issue party’ as the campaign ended.  

The SD vote went up from 12.9 to 17.65 per cent (with final results due mid-week).  They were less than some polls had predicted. The party remains in third place behind the conservative Moderates on around 19.7 per cent.  

But in some ways this anti-climax hardly matters. The SD’s position on immigration has become firmly mainstream.  Even the ruling Social Democrats have diluted their globalist zeal. A moratorium on new asylum seekers, stricter rules on citizenship, and faster deportation of illegals, have gone from being disgraceful suggestions to mainstream positions.    

The Social Democratic Party lost plenty of working-class votes to the brash new force led by an already seasoned figure Jimmie Akesson, despite his 39 years (pictured). It was still the largest party on 28 per cent but this was its worst result since 1908. In power for over 80 of the last 106 years, it can only hang on by enticing its main established rival, the Moderates into a coalition or by recovering votes if fresh elections take place over the winter.    

A parliamentary speaker will be chosen on 24 September and that person will have three months and four attempts at getting a majority for a new government.    

There is also the possibly that the three parties in the centre-right bloc will put together a minority government that relies on tacit backing from Akesson’s party. But he will not sell his support lightly nor will many of his conservative rivals wish to formalise any such cooperation.    

Under the surface, Sweden is in many ways a conventional country. There is a still vigorous bourgeois society of the kind that has died out in much of Britain. Local commercial and professional elites set the tone in provincial towns such as those stretching up the coast from Malmo to Gothenburg. I was told that the universities are by no means as left-wing as those in Britain. Plenty of folk from the professions, young and old, still get involved in civic life. I glimpsed this when I attended the election party of the Moderates in the American-owned Stars and Stripes sports bar, in the south-east town of Kalmar. Four miles out in the Baltic is the long island of Oland and on a stop-over during election day I found it a bastion of conservatism with an American tinge.    

Many islanders emigrated to America from the late 19th century. I saw one flinty patriarch emerge from a Pontiac and escort his wife and young family into the polling station, just down from which a large Confederate flag had been erected in someone’s garden.    

The counter-culture reigns supreme in cities like Stockholm and the mining areas of the north are bastions of the socialist left. But the country has gone its own way in several respects as shown by the strength of Swedish brands and shopping choices, and even the retention of Christian names rather than ones deriving from Hollywood stars or New Age symbols.  

The new political landscape will test the statecraft of Akesson. His party, 28,000 strong, draws supporters from a wide range of backgrounds. Women are still wary of it but one-quarter of Swedish men vote for it.   

The Sweden Democrats are likely to be a feature of the political scene for the foreseeable future but they will need to develop policies beyond the salient immigration issue in order to stay in contention    

All parties that wish to govern will have to offer policies on immigration which reassure the numerous Swedes who have been shocked by the wave of murders, gang feuds, drug-dealing, and car-burnings which have shattered the equilibrium in growing parts of the country.   

The country still has strong layers of stability. In Gothenburg, the explosive growth of a citizens-based democratic alliance, determined to prevent politicians spending taxes on white elephants that voters don’t want, shows there are alternatives to the Sweden Democrats.   

But the demographic changes relentlessly altering the face of the country and leaving large pockets inhabited by disaffected people with little stake in society, is the prime challenge for many. Sweden will be unable to avoid the polarisation and despair gripping France and now Germany unless its political class comes up with answers that stop growing divisions in their tracks.    

Sweden was innovative in its approach to the great economic depression of the 1930s. It now remains to be seen if the current generation of politicians can put aside ideology and career ambition to tackle the fall-out arising from spectacular mistakes on the immigration front.

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