• Sweden edition
Crisis, conservatism, and China: the centre-right jockeys for position

Crisis, conservatism, and China: the centre-right jockeys for position

Published: 09 Jul 2012 17:04 GMT+02:00
Updated: 09 Jul 2012 17:04 GMT+02:00

Correspondent and commentator David Linden looks at whether leaders of Sweden's three centre-right political parties – which sometimes struggle in the shadow of the Moderates – managed to put their parties in the Almedalen spotlight.

Jan Björklund, the Liberal Party (Folkpartiet): the major speaks

At first, Jan Björklund, the Liberal Party leader and Minister for Education, was forced to use his platform at Almedalen for damage control after the party's youth organization used an opinion article in Expressen to openly call for him to be replaced as party leader by current Minister for Democracy Birgitta Ohlsson.

It didn't help either that his economic policy spokesperson, Carl B. Hamilton, suggested that the parties in the centre-right governing Alliance should join forces and become a single party.

The idea of creating one non-socialist party has been around since the 1960s but has never been taken seriously.

So when he entered the stage at seven in the evening it was as a party leader who was under pressure. Björklund, who holds the rank of major in the Swedish army, had seen his party lose the political initiative due to party infighting and his speech was an attempt to fight back.

He must have felt a bit like the Spartan king Leonidas at Thermopylae as he was faced with hoards of enemies.

Unlike Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, however, Björklund outlined a strong defence of what the government has achieved. He defended the party line that immigrants “must learn Swedish”.

He also talked about globalization and jobs.

“Others may be unclear but I won't be,” was his opening line.

He then declared that Sweden’s true rivals were in Asia and if the country did not create more, ultimately Sweden would become “a museum for rich Chinese people”.

The Liberals plan to fight this development by liberalizing the Swedish job market, introducing compulsory employment insurance, and accepting wage differences in the public sector.

This was the climax of the speech and one quickly realized Björklund wants to place his party on the liberal right – a strategy that might take votes from the Moderates. But it will also be interesting to see if Björklund is the party leader at the next election.

Annie Lööf, the Centre Party: in constant crisis

Sweden’s agrarian party, the Centre Party, has suffered an electoral and ideological crisis since the early 1980s. It has tried to be a middle of the road party and supported the Social Democratic budget cuts in the 1990s.

Overall, it was considered to be a sort of non-socialist environmentally friendly but slightly left-wing party, until Maud Olofsson became party leader in 2001.

She took the initiative to create the four-party Alliance and was awarded with a post as Minister for Enterprise and Commerce by Fredrik Reinfeldt in 2006.

The Centre Party had gone into the election as a genuinely non-socialist party advocating tax cuts and privatizations, and Olofsson had attracted votes from those who use to vote for the Moderates.

Around the same time the party sold off its newspaper group, making it the world’s richest political party. But now the party is in crisis, Olofsson is out, and the Centre Party's future rests on the shoulders of the young, but talented, 28-year-old Annie Lööf.

Lööf, who assumed the position in September 2011 and also took over Olofsson's ministerial portfolio, has taken up the challenge of solving her party's crisis.

The day before her speech at Almedalen on Friday, the party had arranged a seminar about the need for ideas in politics, inviting a panel of external speakers, many of them not sympathetic to the Centre Party's policies.

The party received a fair amount of criticism for failing to formulate a new narrative that would attract the voters. Afterwards a local Centre Party staffer expressed his worries.

"I really hope we stay in the Riksdag," he said, referencing a number of recent polls which put support for the party below the four percent threshold for a place in parliament.

Lööf didn't shy away from the party's problems in her first speech at Almedalen as party leader. She tried to present a narrative of where Sweden is going and acknowledged there was a crisis in the party to which she offered a solution.

Her message was that we “need to reconnect” in order to strengthen the government. She presented the concept of the Alliance 2.0, which was met with some cheers from supporters. She then offered some more concrete policy proposals such as introducing the German concept of apprenticeship places and the Danish flex-security system.

Lööf has suffered a lot of criticism because of her age and her speaking style, being accused of speaking in clichés. But here in Almedalen, a lot of supporters turned up to hear what she has to say.

It did not feel like the Centre Party would lose its place the Riksdag if it had been an election today. Of course, it could also be that Lööf’s supporters simply wanted to give “a show of unity” in front of the cameras.

Later the impression among those who had listened was that she delivered a good speech but there was a lot more to be done. While the Center Party and Lööf may have a long way to go to end the party's current crisis, at least they have the cash to do it.

Göran Hägglund, Christian Democrats: rock n’ roll conservatism

Few political parties receive as much as criticism as the Christian Democrats, probably because Sweden is so secular that many people find it somewhat offensive that there is a political party calling itself "Christian".

For over thirty years the party was led by Alf Svensson, who stepped down in 2004, is regarded today as a living national treasure.

And his successor, Hägglund quickly established himself as a funny, warm and witty party leader, having famously joked at an Almedalen panel about adoption prior to his appointment as leader, "I cannot emphasize how important it is for children to choose the right parents."

But his ride as party leader hasn't been easy.

While the party includes social conservative and religious fundamentalists, Hägglund wanted the party to be the conscience of Sweden's centre-right parties.

As health and welfare minister, he talked about ethics, children, families and the rights of old people and oversaw the privatization of the pharmacy monopoly.

But a large faction within the party thought he wasn't far enough to the right, wanting to profile the party as more anti-government. The party's youth wing also grew tired of Hägglund, advocating for something modelled on the Tea Party movement in the United States.

The frustration led to a leadership challenge last autumn, with Hägglund ultimately surviving a bid by former financial markets minister Mats Odell.

And despite all the turmoil and speaking on the last day of Almedalen, the buzz on the ground in Visby was that Hägglund actually had the best party leader speech of the week.

He spoke without notes and most journalists thought it was ideological and compelling. More importantly, perhaps, he managed to convince his own party, including the wing that last wanted to replace him with Odell.

One convert is Ebba Bush, the 25-year-old deputy mayor of Uppsala and firmly in the party's far-right faction who said Hägglund had done a "good job". (On her Facebook page there are pictures of her shooting with a rifle and standing outside Downing Street).

In the crowd, one could also hear young Christian Democrats saying things like “gold, pure gold”.

So while Hägglund has managed to boost his credibility within the party, the question remains as to whether he can convince the electorate.

When he came on stage he was determined to change some of the party’s bad image, even resorting to having rock music playing ahead of the speech.

The themes of Hägglund’s speech were social cohesion and tolerance. His slogan that it was possible to achieve “solidarity without socialism” received cheers, in particular, from some young Christian Democrats in the audience.

He was also attacked what he referred as those who advocate “state individualism”, what he referred to as “government huggers”.

His defense of his and the government’s record boiled down to this: “now the welfare system has been adjusted to the user” rather than opposite.

According to Hägglund “the time for monopolies is over” and the concept of state individualism is “not as nice as rosé wine”, referring to the drink of choice during Almedalen.

His vision was of a "strong society, not a big state”, taking aim at Social Democrat head Stefan Löfven, calling him a silent circus leader: "seldom has anyone said so little, about so much in such a short time”.

The paraphrased Churchill metaphor drew a lot of laughter from the crowd.

When all was said and done, Hägglund highlighted three main themes for the future of the Christian Democrats: solidarity without socialism, equality with streamlining, and freedom without egoism.

We'll just have to wait and see whether or not the voters buy the message too.

David Lindén is a PhD student in history at King’s College London who is serving as the acting political editor for Länstidningen in Södertälje for the summer 2012. Follow him on Twitter at @davidlinden1.

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

18:51 July 9, 2012 by Svealander
Sorry this is DEFINITELY my opinion kicking in here but the Liberal People's Party is pretty much a poor man's Moderaterna. Also, unrelated but Jan Björklund has always reminded of Tony Blair, both in appearance and mannerism.

The Centre Party really has become useless, as "Minister for Enterprise" Annie Poof (sorry Lööf) really has done squat to ease regulation and provide an enriching environment for entrepreneurs.

Wouldn't mind seeing both the Centre Party AND the Liberal People's Party get less than 4% in the next election, of course with fewer coalition partners for Reinfeldt that would open up an opportunity for the "Man of Few Words" Löfven to fill in the chasm and who knows where he stands on any serious issues.
15:57 July 11, 2012 by piu-sweden
haha...as if China would ever care about Sweden so insignificant in the world politics and economy, Bjorklund is dreaming about his "giant sweden"? Super power to compete with China? By the way, the rich Chinese travels and spends money. The real threat are those who came when sweden offered the free tuition...
Today's headlines
Florida 'mystery knight' dies in Sweden
Michael Boatwright (R) and Medieval knight re-enactors.

Florida 'mystery knight' dies in Sweden

The "motel mystery" American who baffled US authorities by only speaking Swedish when he woke up from a coma last year has passed away, Swedish media reported on Wednesday. READ () »

Swedes open coffin of 850-year-old king
Photo: Bertil Ericson/TT

Swedes open coffin of 850-year-old king

UPDATED: Scientists pried open the 850-year-old casket of King Erik the Holy on Wednesday, hoping to find out more about the king, his crown, and his eating habits. READ () »

TeliaSonera announces first-quarter profit drop
TeliaSonera CEO Johan Dennelind. File photo: TT

TeliaSonera announces first-quarter profit drop

Stockholm-listed telecom operator TeliaSonera on Wednesday said profits had fallen in the first quarter, but hoped offering customers more data solutions in the future would turn things around. READ () »

'Imperfect EU better than revolting nationalism'
Fredrik Reinfeldt. File photo: TT

'Imperfect EU better than revolting nationalism'

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt on Wednesday urged young voters to head to the European parliamentary polls on May 25th "to cure the European disease of nationalism". READ () »

Ericsson quarterly profit defies sluggish sales
Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg at the first quarter press conference. Photo: TT

Ericsson quarterly profit defies sluggish sales

Swedish telecom giant Ericsson on Wednesday announced a drop in sales but posted a sharp rise in first-quarter profit, which nonetheless fell shy of analyst predictions. READ () »

Fatal Norrköping brawl
Four brothers held as cops fear brawl reprisals
Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Four brothers held as cops fear brawl reprisals

Swedish police fear that several people involved in a brawl in eastern Sweden on Monday night may be seeking revenge after two brothers were shot dead. READ () »

Sponsored Article
Beautiful pearls of southeast Sweden
The town of Västervik.

Beautiful pearls of southeast Sweden

Ask a Swede, and they are likely to say that their favourite holiday spot is in the southeast of Sweden. Eastern Småland and Öland offer a smörgåsbord of all the things dearest to the Swedes - from the beloved children's book author Astrid Lindgren to deep forests, long sandy beaches, perfect spots for that all-important 'fika', and a surprising amount of space, peace and quiet. READ () »

Weekend weather to bring summer warmth
Swedes enjoy hot dogs and cherry blossoms in Stockholm's Kungsträdgården. Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Weekend weather to bring summer warmth

The sun is set to stick around and temperatures could climb into the twenties over the weekend, Swedish meteorologists said on Wednesday READ () »

'Day-care rapist' admits molesting eight kids

'Day-care rapist' admits molesting eight kids

A 21-year-old man confessed on Wednesday to sex crimes against eight children at a day care where he was working as an intern. READ () »

Swedish cops nab man for having big muscles
An unrelated bodybuilder. File photo: Ann Törnkvist

Swedish cops nab man for having big muscles

Police in Sweden's south who hauled a muscular man in for steroid testing have had their knuckles rapped, after it was ruled that big biceps cannot be grounds for narcotics suspicions. READ () »

Inside the 850-year-old king's coffin
Sponsored: South-eastern Sweden offers Öland beaches and more
Swedish underwear shop puts staff in front of the camera
IN PICTURES: The Local's Property of the Week - Täby
Sponsored: India+Sweden Week - India Unlimited
Sponsored: India+Sweden Week - A film, food, and finance feast
University applications rocket to record high
People-watching April 18-20
Kids in Victorian garb mark Swedish Easter
Swedish MP ordered chemtrail probe
Swedish supermarket Ica pulls contested Easter commercial off air
Swedish royals set baptism date for princess
People-watching April 16
Who's the prime minister's heir?
Alfie Atkins
Are children's books the key to families integrating in Sweden?
'Sweden Dem protests cater to party's martyr image'
'Swedish research grants were fantastic, but now it's like Australia'
Only in Sweden: The ten problems you'd never encounter elsewhere
Swedes stopped to take my picture, but didn't look me in the eyes
Business & Money
A swipe of the hand replaced cash and cards in Lund
Video: Oliver Gee finds out how to embrace The Swedish Hug
Abba duo hints at reunion
Flash mobs hug it out across Sweden
People-watching April 11-13
Stockholm School of Economics
Sponsored Article
Why a bachelor's degree is no longer enough
Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Blog Update: The Diplomatic Dispatch

28 October 15:16

The Green Growth Group Summit »

"Today on the 28 October in Brussels, a large group of key EU Ministers and business people, including UK Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change Edward Davey, and Swedish Environment Minister Lena Ek, will meet to discuss green growth. They all have a stake in resolving a challenge which, although it is crucial..." READ »

jobs available
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions
Swedish Down Town Consulting & Productions is an innovative business company which provides valuable assistance with the Swedish Authorities, Swedish language practice and general communications. Call 073-100 47 81 or visit: