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Home Opinion Reinfeldt’s party heavily defeated by a strong, but divided left
State of the LeftSweden

Reinfeldt’s party heavily defeated by a strong, but divided left

Katrine Kielos - 29 May 2014

For the first time, two centre-left parties topped a national election. The new Feminist Initiative is also sending one MEP to Brussels. After three years of static, Swedish politics is suddenly moving again. The left is winning, but it’s a much more divided left

European politics in Sweden is a comparatively rational affair; the whole spectrum of intense feelings that are directed towards Brussels and Strasbourg in other countries are mainly absent. The Swedes are members of the EU and non-members of the euro, and rather content in both of these choices.

The televised debate before the European Parliament Elections in Sweden was about the use of antibiotics on pigs, the Europe 2020 climate and energy package and the proposed transatlantic trade deal. That is: things that the European Parliament actually has a say in. In this way, the European election was different from many other European countries. It was about concrete issues more than general sentiments.

Yes, the xenophobic Sweden Democrats drew lots of attention and did well (9.8 percent of the vote), but their issues didn't enter the mainstream debate, even if they did as a party.

The big story of the election was the unprecedented collapse of Conservative Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt's party. Since 1979, the Conservative party has always been one of the two biggest parties in any national election. Not this time.

Since the introduction of democracy, one centre-right party has always been among the top two parties. Not this time.

Never before have two parties of the centre-left topped a national election in Sweden. This time they did.

Fredrik Reinfeldt was beaten not only by the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, but also by the Greens. Only 13 percent voted for the prime minister's party - an utterly disastrous result for a politician neither used to or good at losing.

Fredrik Reinfeldt’s political brand of slick spin, moralistic lectures about strong public finances and competent boring governance was rejected by an electorate that wanted something else. Something completely different.

The rise of the trendy and celebrity endorsed Feminist Party became the big media story during the last weeks of the campaign. The Feminist party, Feminist Initiative, founded in 2005, who counts Benny Andersson from the legendary pop group ABBA among its biggest donors, ended up getting its first MEP.

Their young, well-educated female supporters couldn't be more different from the young, angry, men who vote for the xenophobic Sweden Democrats.

In many ways, the picture emerging from this European election is that of a split electorate. On one hand, a wave of young progressive voters attracted to lifestyle parties like the Greens or the Feminists. On the other hand, a group outside of the bigger cities that feels increasingly left behind.

Maybe these electoral groups have always existed sociologically to some extent, but in previous eras they were parts of different wings of the same all mighty Swedish social democracy. Now they have broken away. Yes, the left is winning in Sweden but it's a much more divided left.

The question is however how much these EU elections can predict what's going to come in the national elections. EU elections are a bit like Strictly Come Dancing, or any other reality TV show where celebrities past their prime get a chance for a comeback. The candidates campaigning to become MEPs are usually not the ones the parties would choose to represent them in a national campaign. Fredrik Reinfeldt is a much stronger politician than the MEP who headed the European campaign for the Conservatives. In Sweden, it’s mainly the top MEPs who participate in the televised debates, not the party leaders.

The voters also treat the European elections less seriously. The same person who is prepared to vote for the feminist party in a European election is not prepared to do it in a national election. The Greens also have an advantage in any European elections since the Swedes (rightly) believe that the European Parliament deals a lot with environmental issues.

The conservative parties’ complete lack of interest in anything green really hurt them among young voters this time, but will the same thing happen in a national election?

The social democrats held up much better. They ran a campaign focused on traditional issues like labour market regulation and working conditions; it wasn't exciting or surprising but it worked okay.

Party leader Stefan Löfven is in a good position to become prime minister after the general elections in September. Swedish politics, which has been fairly static for the last three years, is suddenly moving.

It's sure moving away from the centre-right, but maybe also from the centre itself.
That wouldn't necessarily be good news for Stefan Löfven.

Katrine Kielos is a columnist for Aftonbladet, Sweden and Scandinavia’s largest daily newspaper

This is a contribution to Policy Network's work on The Future of the EU.

Tags: Katrine Kielos , Opinion , Sweden , Swedish Social Democratic Workers' Party , Sveriges socialdemokratiska arbetareparti , SAP , The Workers' Party – The Social Democrats , Arbetarepartiet-Socialdemokraterna , Fredrik Reinfeldt , Moderate Party , Moderata samlingspartiet , The Moderate Coalition Party , Moderaterna , The Moderates , Welfare State , Social Security , Triangulation , Göran Persson , The Alliance , Alliance , Mona Sahlin , Green Party , Miljöpartiet de Gröna , The Environmental Party the Greens , Miljöpartiet , The Environmental Party , Left Party , Vänsterpartiet , V , Red-Green Coalition , Immigration , Europe , Sweden Democrats , Swedish Democrats , Sverigedemokraterna , SD , Coalition , Centre Party , Centerpartiet , C , Christian Democrats , Kristdemokraterna , KDSweden , Social , Democrats , Politics , Unemployemnt , The Nordic Model ,

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The Policy Network Observatory promotes critical debate and reflection on progressive politics. It is centre-left orientated but determinedly challenges social democracy. It is pro-European but restlessly questions EU institutions and practices.

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