Sweden’s Election: the Elephant in the Room

by Andrew Stuttaford

Writing in the Wall Street Journal (paywall), the smart, libertarian(ish) commentator Johan Norberg explains why Sweden’s new Red/Green government is calling a new election, but tiptoes around the elephant in the room:

The [center-right] Alliance lost power in September because voters sensed it was running low on ideas, but the Social Democrats and their reluctant allies, the Green and the Left Party, didn’t win. They improved on their awful 2010 result by only 0.02 percentage points of the popular vote, to a combined 43.6%. That was still higher than the total for the center-right, so Mr. Löfven got the first shot at forming a government—but the coalition’s inability to pass legislation on its own created an unstable situation.

Well yes, but the Moderates (the leading force in the Alliance) saw their share of the vote fall from around 30% to 23%. Where might some of those votes have gone?

One (largely unexamined) clue comes in Norberg’s next paragraph:

The only real winner in the latest election was the Sweden Democrats (SD), an anti-immigration protest party that doubled its vote share to almost 13%. But size hasn’t brought them influence for two reasons. SD wants to cut taxes like the right and hike spending like the left, so they wouldn’t be reliable partners to either side. More importantly, the SD doesn’t care too much about those issues anyway, but focuses almost exclusively on immigration, and in an ugly way. SD was created in 1988 by people from Sweden’s neo-Nazi movement. They are trying to clean up their act, but no other political force dares work with them.

The SD is not a likable party, and its origins are as Norberg describes them, but it has been given its chance by the failure of the establishment parties of either left or right to accept that there could be a reasonable alternative to Sweden’s extraordinarily permissive immigration policy, a failure that is perhaps more striking on the right than the left, something that didn’t seem to worry the Moderates’ (now former) leader Fredrik Reinfeldt in the run-up to the campaign, during the campaign or, it seems, after the campaign.

The Local reports:

In an interview with the Danish Politiken daily, Reinfeldt once again categorically rejected any active cooperation with the Sweden Democrats. “There is no place for the Sweden Democrats on the ‘borgerlig’ (liberal/conservative) side of Swedish politics,” he said. Reinfeldt furthermore rejected the notion that Sweden offers a safehaven for more refugees than the country can cope with, saying that there is plenty of room in the Nordic countries for more human beings fleeing oppression and war.

 ”What does the word “enough” mean? Sweden is full? The Nordic region is full? Are we too many people? We are 25 million people living in the North. I often fly over the Swedish countryside and I would advise others to do. There are endless fields and forests. There’s more space than you might imagine. Those who claim that the country is full, they should demonstrate where it is full.

I’ll just let that argument stand there. 

Back to Norberg:

Mr. Löfven, who is at heart a moderate, business-friendly former trade-unionist, made what turns out to have been a serious political miscalculation. He could have reached across the aisle to the Alliance for support for a cautious budget that would have appealed to Sweden’s generally centrist instincts.

Instead, he decided he needed to shore up support for his uneasy coalition from the left. So he followed the wishes of his left-wing partners by proposing a reduction in tax credits for higher earners that would have increased the top effective rate to 60%, and beginning to dismantle choice in education and health care.

The theory was that the SD, whose own budget proposal had earlier been rejected by Parliament, would abstain from voting on the government’s plan, an unwritten tradition in Swedish politics. That would have allowed Mr. Löfven’s plurality coalition to pass its own left-leaning budget over the Alliance’s objections. But the SD broke with tradition and voted with the opposition. This wasn’t out of fiscal principle—the SD leadership said the party would have voted against an Alliance budget, too—but to punish the government for not bowing to immigration restrictionism.

Quite why the SD, a party shunned by the mainstream (and, after its arrival in parliament in 2010, a party that found itself at the wrong end of post-democratic shenanigans) should have been expected to conform with “an unwritten tradition in Swedish politics” is beyond me.

Meanwhile Reuters reports:

Police were attacked with firebombs and rocks in a poor suburb in Sweden’s capital late on Saturday, leading to the arrest of eleven young people for rioting and arson. The events in Ragsved in southern Stockholm came after week-long riots in Husby on the other side of the capital in May last year when hundreds of cars were burnt as police battled immigrant youths after a Portuguese man was shot dead by police.

A police spokesman said it was too early to say who the perpetrators were this time, but that four of the eleven arrested were younger than 18.

“What is quite unusual here is that this was seemingly somewhat planned ahead,” police spokesman Kjell Lindgren said.

He said firebombs and piles of paving stones were already prepared when police arrived and the approximate 30 people behind the riot were reported to have been masked. No people were harmed but around 10 cars were set on fire. Police cars were damaged and a Ragsved police office also saw some damage. Like Husby, Ragsved has a large immigrant population, and further violence in immigrant suburbs could help boost the far-right anti-immigration Sweden Democrats in snap elections in March next year.

Well, that and a few more interventions by Mr. Reinfeldt. 

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