Goran Persson

Spending the last 4 days of the Swedish election campaign in Stockholm with the Social Democrats has been an eye-opening experience. The stark realisation – starting on Saturday (the day before Sunday’s poll – result here, and here (Swedish official results)) that actually they were going to lose, was the toughest part. This is a party very used to governing; for many of the younger members of SSU (the party’s youth branch), this is the first defeat they have ever known. I was 12 in 1992 when Major managed to win – I can just about remember it. Yet looking at 2009, could the same happen to Labour as happened yesterday to Goran Persson’s Social Democrats?

At the Social Democrat election party last night, everyone was keen to draw parallels between the Swedish result and what may or may not happen to the Labour Party in the future. “What you need in the UK is something new. Really new.” So stated a prominent Swedish EU politician to me. “So you mean not Gordon Brown?” “Well, is he new?” Well, not really.

In effect, the election result for the Social Democrats was more due to having been in power for a long time and being seen to be staid and past their best. A reticent and not especially communicative leader that the party was none too keen to work for compounded the problem. Forget the effort of all the diligent local workers; when the national trend is against you, you lose.

In today’s society, the power of being new, the ones with ideas, gives a marked advantage. Blair in 1997 marked a decisive break from the past. The question in my mind is hence this: will Gordon Brown running to be PM in 2009 be a change that is radical enough from the Blair era? Will he actually make the party seem new, bright and optimistic? If he does not, I fear for Labour’s election prospects. Let’s start the campaign for David Miliband now.


  1. Galoglas

    You’re right – we can always learn from each other. But how much can Britain, 60 million, large ethnic communities, not to mention four “Home Nations” who have a a high level of animosity towards each other, learn from monoglot, mono-ethnic Svenska?

    For example, Gordon Brown’s main problem in the rest of the UK is that he’s too “Scottish”. Hoe does the Swedish example help deal with this?

    BECAUSE Sweden is small; BECAUSE it is like a village writ large; BECAUSE it and the other Nordic states passed through the World Wars largely blemishless, they have been able to implement a unigue model. Good for them – I admire them. But Britain can’t follow them, it’s too big and too different. The Labour Party is too different; once a vehicle of working class interest, it’s now been hijacked by ex-Trotskyist converts to uber-capitalism. Conscientious Social Democrats a la suede are better off with the LibDems.

  2. There are differences – no doubt. But to say there are no lessons is simply wrong. I’ve spent an enormous amount of time in Sweden over the last 18 months, and indeed in plenty of European countries over the last few years – we ALL have things to learn from each other. Examples of what works, what does not, how political parties work. That’s the brilliant thing about the EU – it makes all these brilliant exchanges possible.

  3. Galoglas

    I admire Sweden, and the Nordic model, but how much of a model can they really be for the rest of Europe? These are small, unusually homogenous countries on the fringe of Europe. they took no part in WWI, a marginal part in WWII. The Swedish political situation is so different from that of the UK that NO meaningful lessons can be drawn from one for the other.

    Re Miliband. He’s young, smart, and telegenic. He also has zero charisma. England is bored, and wants a change, and is much more susceptible to raffish Tories like George Osborne and Zac Goldsmith than some wonk who has unfailingly voted for two of the greatest bolls-ups of recent UK history, i.e. the Iraq war and PFI.

  4. But bear this in mind: the last time *any* centre left party anywhere in Europe won 4 elections in a row, it was the Social Democrats in Sweden in the 1970s. No other party has managed it in recent times.

    There’s no need to panic, but I think the surgery that Labour needs is more major than people are presently willing to contemplate.

  5. You might be drawing the wrong analogy here. From what I understand, the Swedish Social Democrats have been in power for most of the time since WW2. Their position is akin to that of the Tories who were in power for a total of 70 years in the 20th Century.

    It’s true that young 20-something Brits can’t remember the Tories, but us thirty-somethings certainly can – we were the ones facing unemployment in 1992 when we came out of university or finding that our first homes were underwater in negative equity. And memories are still strong in the north and Scotland about what Thatcher did to people’s dads.

    The Swedish experience is more what we will face in 2016 than in 2009.

    Don’t allow yourself to get panicked into making rash decisions.

    Also bear in mind that this election is different to Blair’s in 1994 or Cameron’s or Campbell’s – they were all opposition leaders when elected – all they had to do is handle PMQs, apart from that they can spend years pfaffing around with A lists and trying to cudgel their brains for policies.

    We are electing a prime minister, who will have to take on all the responsibilities of state, two wars, anything that world events throw at him, plus get the party ready for election. Only Mr Brown can credibly handle it. (I can’t imagine David Milliband or Alan Johnson manging the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, let alone being tough enough to negotiate to extract us – can you?) We will win or lose the next election based on the economy and whether we get ourselves out of the middle east – we need Brown for both.

  6. But given the current unpopularity of both Blair and Brown, is that the best place to be? He’s not widely known but those who do know him see him as a Blairite, almost as a clone of Blair. I think that could be very damaging.

  7. But what would Miliband do to make the party look new, bright and optimistic? Apart from him being younger than Brown and Blair, what’s the difference? The only person so far mentioned as a potential candidate who offers something really new, something that looks at society and the future with genuine optimism, is John McDonnell. Let’s campaign for him.

  8. It’s not actually so much a question of what policies any of the possible leadership contenders would implement. It’s more an issue of whether they can reach out to the population and communicate a positive message. I don’t reckon John McDonnell can manage that.

    Miliband sits astride the Blair and Brown camps, he’s young, dynamic, communicative, intelligent, and is not seen to be too associated with the current cabinet. Him leading a team with James Purnell, Andy Burnham etc. in it would be excellent.

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