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'It's dangerous to disregard experience'

'It's dangerous to disregard experience'

Published: 16 Sep 2011 16:22 GMT+02:00
Updated: 16 Sep 2011 16:22 GMT+02:00

As Sweden's politicians return to business at the Riksdag after a period of party-leadership reshuffling, The Local's Rebecca Martin examines concerns that youth has begun to trump experience in Swedish politics.

In less than two weeks, 28-year-old Annie Lööf is set to be voted in as the new head of Sweden's Centre Party.

In succeeding outgoing party leader Maud Olofsson, 56, Lööf will become the country's youngest party head.

But Lööf only beat new Green Party spokesperson Gustaf Fridolin – also 28 – to title of youngest party leader by a few months.

Lööf and Fridolin are just the latest under-30 politicians to rocket to the top in what some consider a worrying trend of youth trumping experience in the upper echelons of Swedish politics.

“Something has gone slightly wrong when Swedish papers claim that a 46-year-old party leader candidate has his age against him,” former leader of the Christian Democrats and current European MP, Alf Svensson, tells The Local.

Svensson's comments refer to 46-year-old Left Party politician Jonas Sjöstedt who finds him battling 32-year-old Hans Linde to take over as party leader after Lars Ohly, 54, who announced early this year he plans to step down.

Svensson, who earlier this month wrote a scathing critique against the youth trend in Sweden's politics on opinion website Newsmill, says that the recent choices of party heads shows that Sweden no longer values experience in their leaders.

“Party heads must be young and look good on TV. Jonas Sjöstedt, a very able left wing politician with a good amount of experience is told that his age – although he is still below 50 – will work against him. What a lot of tosh!”, wrote Svensson.

But a looking at the figures quickly reveals that Sweden's top politicians are indeed getting younger.

In 1991, the average age of Swedish party heads was 50.

But with Lööf, Fridolin, and 32-year-old Sweden Democrat head Jimmie Åkesson – who was only 25 when he took over the party's top spot – this figure has fallen to just under 42.

However, Svensson's fellow Christian Democrat, Aron Modig, current chair of the Christian Democrats youth wing (KDU), disagrees with his older colleague.

“Among the considered candidates for the Centre Party leadership there were two people over 40. And in the Left Party leader election process, the situation is the same,” Modig wrote on Newsmill.

Modig also argues that it's wrong to assume younger people have less experience. And politics shouldn't be seen as a profession, but a commission of trust.

“There is nothing to say that these intellectual, driven and hungry people wish to be, or will be, full-time politicians in the long run. They might have other plans for their life and look at the time for party leadership as now,” he wrote.

Similar views have been argued by Lööf herself, who believes she was chosen as the Centre Party candidate, not because of her age, but because the party faithful trust her abilities.

“I think I can unite being a leader for a popular movement, with a leadership that works in the media,” she said in an interview with Sveriges Radio (SR) shortly after her nomination.

Lööf joined the party in 2001 and was elected to the Riksdag by preference vote in 2006, making her the youngest MP to serve during the 2006-2010 parliamentary term.

Despite her age, she has already held a number of prominent positions, including deputy leader of the Centre Party's Riksdag group and the party's economic spokesperson.

And Fridolin, who earlier this year was elected as spokesperson for the Greens together with older colleague Åsa Romson, 39, has a long CV for his relatively tender age.

Previously head of the party's youth wing, Grön Ungdom, he served as a member of the Riksdag between 2002 and 2006, before leaving politics to work as a journalist and teacher.

After returning to politics in 2010, Fridolin served as an MP for Skåne and as the party's industrial policy spokesperson.

While Svensson is convinced both Lööf and Fridolin are capable politicians, he argues they might even be even better representatives for their parties in 10 or 20 years.

“Of course it is vital to get young people into politics and perhaps politics could also benefit from a touch of the impatience that goes with youth, but I think it is dangerous to disregard the wisdom that experience brings with it,” Svensson explains.

Ironically, Svensson, now 72, took over as head of the Christian Democrats when he was only 34-years-old.

If anyone, he should know a thing or two about the benefits of maturity on the political scene, he argues

“I think that I was something of a spitfire which of course you ought to be in your 30s,” Svensson recalls.

“But I think that I could have benefited from taking a step back and listened more. With experience you're able to see things from different angles.”

He thinks that the pendulum will eventually swing back towards an appreciation of experience over youthfulness, however.

“And I hope that it won't backlash against young people in politics when it does,” he says.

The Left Party's Sjöstedt, the politician whose age was said to be “against him” and who initially sparked Svensson to weigh in on the debate about youth versus experience, agrees that there is a trend toward younger leadership in Swedish politics today.

He argues that the preference for younger faces to front political parties is a refection of how parties strive to reinvent themselves and to attract new voters.

And youth is not a bad thing in itself, according to Sjöstedt.

“The most important ability is to be able to convey the political message of the party and to further party policy,” he explains.

“But there is a danger in appointing someone who lacks any other previous experience - who maybe hasn't had a 'regular' job.”

Political scientist Nicholas Aylott of Södertörn University College, belives the trend toward a younger set of leaders may be a complete coincidence. And then again it may not.

“Both the Green and the Centre Parties did happen to have some rather talented young individuals among their ranks, but having said that, a similar trend does seem to be visible in other northern European countries, not in the least in Denmark and Finland, and even Britain,” Aylott explains.

Although not in his twenties any longer, the British prime minister David Cameron is, at 44, the youngest prime minister elected in almost 200 years in Britain. In addition, most of the country's top brass are under 50.

In Denmark the average age of party leaders is 47.1 and in Norway the corresponding figure is 46.1. Finland mirrors Sweden with an average age of its party leaders at 41.8.

One theory to explain the trend is that political parties and careers are changing, according to Aylott.

“It may be that it is easier today to make a rocket-like career within the political sphere – to get to the big posts quickly,” he explains.

And there are many benefits to having a youthful leader who makes a positive impression on voters.

“A young leader with a charismatic personality that looks good on the front of a magazine will reach a lot more people,” says Aylott.

However, youth also carries many potential disadvantages.

“The biggest risk that springs to mind is making bad decisions. As you get older you gain in knowledge, credibility and perhaps an enhanced ability to make strategic decisions based on experience,” says Aylott.

Veteran politician Svensson also points out that there are times when experience counts for more than drive.

"If you are going in for an operation it may be calming to know that the surgeon has a few procedures under his belt," he explains.

And Jonas Sjöstedt notes that youth hasn't always been something to emphasise on one's political CV.

”Former Left Party head C-H Hermansson recently told me that when he was elected at the age of 47 in 1964 he had been told his age was against him – that he was too young,” says Sjöstedt.

Despite this, Sjöstedt thinks that his age will definitely be a disadvantage for him when the Left Party goes to vote for their new head later this autumn.

Of course, Sjöstedt's age isn't the only thing working against him, as many within the Left Party would like a female leader.

“But as the typical politician traditionally has been a white middle-aged man, it fills me with hope for the future to be a member of a party where that will be seen as a disadvantage,” he concludes.

Rebecca Martin (rebecca.martin@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

09:49 September 17, 2011 by Nemesis
Just like the job market.

Experience is ignored.
10:14 September 17, 2011 by Keith #5083
Experience is a 'time frame scenario'. The ability to extrapolate meaningful data from such a 'time frame scenario' is not dependent upon age, but upon flexibility, open-mindedness and the willingness to look as objectively as possible at 'experience'.

I am very aware that the world when I was 20 is vastly different than the world now I am 60+ and my view of those two comparisons is necessarily subjective.
12:41 September 17, 2011 by Opinionfool
Experience can mean "set in their ways". Or a desire to return to some rose-tinted version of society that older politicians think they lived through and was "better". Younger politicians have vision and verve; let them take control --- they'll have to live through the consequences of their own decisions.
17:57 September 17, 2011 by Not Dumb
I cannot help but observe that Sweden has come to the circumstances it's presently in via its 'older, experienced' politicians. Perhaps the fact that so many today are deeply concerned about the state of this country is being reflected in a desire 'to break with' the kinds of political thinking that brought us to where we are; thus, younger politicos in the hope they indeed 'see things differently' than the '´more experienced' ones do.

There seem however some reasons for a certain caution, not the least being that many young people from 18-29 would welcome abolishing Swedish democracy and instituting a dictatorship, ie, The Local's article 'Many young Swedes favour dictatorship', 3 Jun 11.

Today, both those on the political Right and Left are dissatisfied with the way Sweden is, and I personally do blame the current generation of politicos for allowing this once heavenly land to deteriorate so much on their watch. I also personally believe that too many political decisions have been taken not because it's what 'the people' want, but rather because powerful political blocs had wanted something, newspapers throughout the West often lamenting how corporate and elite interests have trumped those of 'the people'.

Is it any wonder that given such things, 'the populace' want to find someone that will listen to them again -- I think not. But the deep cynicism that some seem to feel about the present democratic process has led to desires for dictatorship among elements of younger voters, and while this disenchantment is understandable, jumping from the 'frying pan' of a 'troubled democracy' into 'the fire' of a dictatorship is not a good idea. While in the former one 'feels the heat', history demonstrates that in 'the fire' one is simply incinerated.
22:36 September 17, 2011 by Robbie619
What Sweden needs is some republicans so men can get their balls back and fight the inevitable muslim insurgency (armed by Iran or Russia) in a few years. In the US we got Mexicans multiplying like crazy but many are willing to fight and die for the US. I doubt the muslims and swedes are on the same side. The way those arabs multiply the white people are going to be in the minority there soon enough.

I'm exaggerating a little but it's no secret that muslims would rather take over than live peacefully with swedes.
15:38 September 19, 2011 by grymagnusson
if there is one thing we don't need is "some Republicans"
17:08 September 19, 2011 by crofab
Great comment, Opinionfool. I think young politicians who must live with their decisions and face the long-term consequences is a breath of fresh air!
17:40 September 19, 2011 by Rick Methven

There are many Muslims who have served in the Swedish army. There were 5 in my sons platoon when he did his national service, all second generation Swedes born in Sweden who could have got out of it if they wanted to but chose to do their bit for their country like other ethnic Swedes. The vast majority of Swedish nationals and residents who are Muslims, find no conflict between their religious belief and serving the country that they live in. The same is true in most European countries.

But what this has got to do with experience and Republicans, I do not see, or do you mean experience like Bubba Bush LOL
10:09 September 20, 2011 by Robbie619
@ Rick Methven

I don't trust muslims because they is always a chance they can become extremists. The FBI is always breaking up terrorist plots...and it's ALWAYS muslims plotting things!

I used to think George Bush was horrible but we were way better off then than we are now. Obama has made things worse. Also the world feared us under Bush, no one fears Obama and in this dog eat dog world kindness is weakness. As crazy as this sounds there are more and more Americans that actually miss Bush, and these are the same people that voted for Obama. I hear you guys are having a major crisis in Europe, so much for socialism lol. I noticed something in traveling to Europe, the American 'poor" are better off than most people I saw there. I noticed how small homes are in Sweden, the 1 bedroom apartment I used to live in would be considered big there. The downside to this is that because most Americans never leave the country they have no idea how good they have it so they are spoiled. We got the fattest "poor" people in the world so they can't be starving.
21:45 September 20, 2011 by johan rebel
If only Alexander the Great had waited another 20 years or so, he would have accomplished so much more.
23:28 September 20, 2011 by AbangBeruang
@Robbie619, this news has nothing do about Muslims. Why did you bring this up? Dont you have anything else to think about? Mind it, I have a few colleagues at my work place who are Muslims and they are the best guys in our department. I work in a world renowned wireless communication communication in Stockholm (Which company is this, any guess!!).. So, I request you to grow up, the world is not black and white as you might want it to be.
09:59 September 21, 2011 by Robbie619

The article is about politics and at first I mentioned republicans taking care of muslims and someone else responded by focusing on muslims. I don't know what company you work for since there are many big wireless companies in the world. The richest guy in the world is this mexican dude, Carlos Slim, who runs a wireless company in Mexico. Well you say muslims are the best guys in your department, that says a lot about your department lol....

I never said the world is black or white. Some things are easy to understand though like a certain group of people are terrorists and they are usually from the same religion, which is Islam. Less muslims = safer world. Simple.
22:23 September 22, 2011 by Keith #5083

Yep,it's probably 'dangerous to disregard experience' as the headline says. So I guess by your logic we should also be saying "less Norwegians=safer world', or 'less Germans (Bader Meinhoff) = safer world', or ....well, I think you get the point. The list could just go on.

However, as a point of factual reality, Muslims kill more Muslims than anyone else does so it seems like you get your wish.

Personally I have some excellent Muslims friends, and Catholic friends, and Jewish friends,and Hindu friends and Buddhist friends and even atheist friends. Experience has taught me to try not to judge by the label. I've had some pretty crappy expensive label jeans and some incredibly good cheap jeans.
00:40 September 23, 2011 by Robbie619
@ Keith #5083

Norwegians and Germans aren't flying planes into buildings and doing suicide bombings lol. There's a few nutcases but with muslims it happens all the time. They were celebrating after 9/11! That says it all. Whenever muslim kids die in war I am happy because they were just terrorists in the making.

Back to my original posts, Sweden needs more republicans to balance things out because the government has too much control. No one agrees with me more than swedes. I've met swedish international students at my college in California and they say the government controls everything there.
08:41 September 23, 2011 by sjuttiosjusköterskorpåsjukhuset
@Robbie 619: I do think you'd be far more persuasive if you didn't allow your own personal prejudices of all Muslims to overshadow the point that you are tring to convey. I do happen to AGREE with you on ONE OF the points that you mentioned in your last post (#14): "Sweden needs more republicans to balance things out because the government has too much control." Stick to rhetoric like that, along with supportive evidence (sources), and you'll be "Home-Free" with many more Swedes. I recommend that you steer and stay far away from religious and racial/ethnic issues. I want more republicanism in Sweden myself, but NOT with the kind of approach that you are taking. Furthermore, this headline isn't even ABOUT Muslims, so why are you even going there? Swedish people and their culture, of whom I have been familiar with since the early 1970s, are not as parochial as you think, many have far more exposure to Muslims than you realize, even in the remotest corners of frozen northern Sweden. You insult their intelligence by making generalizations and stereotypes of ALL Muslims. Swedes know this is untrue; Muslims differ per individual, just like any other group. With what you've written, I question if you ever even ENCOUNTERED a Muslim. And so do they.
10:59 September 23, 2011 by jgmouton
That's because of the media: they want nice-looking people, young. It's a new form of racism.
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