• Sweden edition
 
Centre Party Crisis
'The Centre Party is a confused party': expert

'The Centre Party is a confused party': expert

Published: 14 Jan 2013 12:52 GMT+01:00
Updated: 14 Jan 2013 12:52 GMT+01:00

The Local speaks with Lund University political scientist Mikael Sundström to find out what's behind the Centre Party's current struggles and what they mean for Swedish politics.

A rift has opened up in the small Centre Party this past week, forcing leader Annie Lööf to cut short her holiday to explain the new ideas on immigration, polygamy and changes to compulsory education. What does the rift mean for the party and for Sweden?

Mikael Sundström, political scientist at Lund University, explains the ins and outs of the party's current crisis to The Local.

What's behind the Centre Party's situation?

The Centre Party is in the middle of transition, which it has been for more than ten years, and is leaving it’s traditional political base behind. To simplify, it’s moving towards the right.

Where were they before that?

It started out as a farmers’ association so the base was rural, but as the number of farmers decreased dramatically in the 1970s, the Centre Party decided to move towards the more libertarian-leaning (frihetlig) profile. That still fit in with people in the countryside as there are many small business owners there, but it also fit in with many urban voters.

This latest crisis shows a certain degree of confusion within the party. There is the old socially liberal group, which is by far the biggest faction with roots in the old party programme, but then there is a smaller, more libertarian wing that is derogatorily referred to as “Stureplan Centre”, where individual freedoms are very much in focus. They want a small state with a lot of freedom-of-choice yet they dislike being call neoliberal. (Editor’s note: Stureplan is a posh Stockholm night life district).

Why do they dislike being called neoliberals?

This hesitance appears more odd to us political scientists than it does to anyone else, because for us it's simply a way to describe a certain kind of liberalism. Yet in Sweden it’s almost become a cuss word.

If you look at the US for a comparison, calling yourself a liberal is almost impossible because the word has extremely negative connotations among the voters. And that’s exactly what has happened here.

Is the internal divide bigger than in other Swedish political parties?

There are other divides but it's more dangerous for the Centre Party because it's so small. The division means they risk losing their seats in parliament.

When the Moderates moved from being quite far to the right to becoming more centrist, there were irritated members but it’s such a big party that there was never any risk they’d eliminate themselves.

Where does party leader Annie Lööf fit into this ideological divide?

Before she took over as head of the party she was outspoken with her libertarian-leaning sentiments. Her political instincts are libertarian. But she has tried to tone them down since taking over because she has to represent the entire party.

And where does the extremely critical op-ed from a group of local members in Färglanda that was published last week fit into all this?

I think those members had a very extreme take on the topic, and they gave expression to immigration-critical views that are not in tune with the Centre Party normally.

Does the divide between socially liberal and libertarian members follow an urban-rural divide?

It's certainly been presented that way, by referring to the Stureplan Centre. And maybe members from let's say Jokkmokk (in Sweden's far north) don’t have as strong a voice within the party. Most voters are outside the cities but Maud Olofsson, Lööf’s predecessor, tried to attract urban voters more than previously.

The divide isn’t crystal clear, I think there is more to it ideologically than city versus countryside.

What are the traditional core issues for a Centre Party member?

Well, the problem has been to convince voters what they stand for. After almost every election, Swedish voters are asked what the different parties stand for, and very few feel they know what the Centre Party stands for.

It’s the most unclear party in Swedish politics.

Olofsson’s and now Lööf’s aim has been to become more clear.

And this ideas programme was part of that?

Yes, absolutely. The working group most certainly thought it was going to make things extremely clear. Then the media picked up the most extreme examples, but they were examples to illustrate wider ideas and I can understand Lööf’s and the working group members' frustration at how it has been portrayed.

What will this do to the Centre Party’s performance in the 2014 parliamentary elections?

The Centre Party lives below the 4-percent threshold that is required in the elections to get into parliament, as do the Christian Democrats. I am very curious to see what happens now in upcoming opinion polls.

Moderate voters are the ones who save the Centre Party through tactical voting in the elections. By the Centre Party’s own account, a third of its voters were actually Moderates. It’s around the same figure for the Christian Democrats, who are also a minority partner in the government coalition.

Yet, the current crisis could benefit the Centre Party. If there are swing voters with very clear libertarian leanings they now know where to go. It means they could also poach disgruntled members from the Moderates.

I’d say there are more voters to be fished from the libertarian pool, than there are disgruntled traditionalist party members to lose.

If they leave the Centre Party, where would they go?

Because the Centre Party has always been so unclear about what it stands for, their supporters have probably voted for them for many different reasons, but it’s hard to know which ones. And therefore it’s hard to know where they’d go.

Ann Törnkvist

Follow Ann on Twitter here

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

14:54 January 14, 2013 by RobinHood
".... the media picked up the most extreme examples, ........ I can understand Lööf's and the working group members' frustration at how it has been portrayed."

And here lies the problem. A better party manager than Annie would have recognised all this stuff about open borders and polygamy for the electoral poison pills they are, and put a stop to it at once. Once it's allowed to be debated, the press inevitably leaps on this type of rubbish, and suddenly the Centre Part is a party for cranks and weirdoes who haven't yet found a home with the Leftists and the Greens.

Extremists have to be kept to the extremities; if they're allowed into the centre (no pun intended), they will quickly vandalise a party's reputation. The larger parties can afford to shrug off the occasional nutter, but Annie doesn't have that luxury.

Young Jimmie has been giving the other party leaders a lesson in good party management these past few weeks; any transgressions, and it's out the door the next day. Judging by last week's polls, the electorate has taken notice. Take a leaf out of Jimmie's book Annie; keep your crackpots under control. Put them into a special committee, and tell the press to take absolutely no notice of them at all.
09:00 January 15, 2013 by hatim
Annie Aloof.
15:01 January 15, 2013 by snowtiger
What a nutjob party!
15:25 January 18, 2013 by tadchem
The true Centrist is one who has not committed to a decisive course of action on ANYTHING. Unfortunately, this puts them at the 'balance point' and makes their whims and moods frequently the deciding factor between proposals of the Left and the Right when those two are most evenly opposed.

Frankly it scares me that important political decisions could be swayed one way or another based on whether the guy in the middle had spicy Thai or creamy French for lunch.
21:03 January 20, 2013 by NyDag
You mean sh*t party not confused party. This is what happens when women are left in charge.
Today's headlines
Ikea to introduce 'green' vegetarian meatballs

Ikea to introduce 'green' vegetarian meatballs

Swedish furniture giant Ikea is planning to put vegetarian meatballs on the menu in an attempt to cut down on its carbon footprint, the company has announced. READ () »

Students to keep paying off debt beyond 67

Students to keep paying off debt beyond 67

The Swedish government has proposed scrapping the 25-year span for repaying student loans, by suggesting those who attend higher education should keep paying the money back well into retirement. READ () »

Drowned puppies found in crayfish cage
The crayfish cage in the picture is not the one mentioned in the story. Photo: Christine Olsson/TT

Drowned puppies found in crayfish cage

Police in eastern Sweden have launched a preliminary investigation of animal cruelty after two puppies were found drowned in a crayfish cage. READ () »

Three rescued after cruise ship sinks boat
Rickard Rundgren Björk of the coastguard services speaks to the media after the rescue operation on April 19th 2014. Photo: Maja Suslin /TT

Three rescued after cruise ship sinks boat

Three Saturday morning sailors had a lucky escape after their small boat collided and sank after it crashed into a cruise ship whilst sailing in the Stockholm archipelago. READ () »

Missing Swede found alive and well in UK
Sofie Marie Jansson. Photo: Metropolitan Police

Missing Swede found alive and well in UK

British police have found the missing Swedish girl Sofie Jansson in London, exactly a week after she was last seen, with authorities saying she is doing well. READ () »

Social Democrats make tax pledge to elderly

Social Democrats make tax pledge to elderly

Sweden's opposition party has stepped up its efforts to secure the pensioner vote by pledging to lower taxes for the elderly and make higher earners pay more. READ () »

Malmö Nazi attack victim on the mend
Showan Shattak pictured in Malmö before his attack. Photo: Facebook

Malmö Nazi attack victim on the mend

The 25-year-old man, whose stabbing by neo-Nazis sparked mass demonstrations across Sweden, has made a strong recovery in hospital and took to social media to thank supporters for campaigning against fascism. READ () »

Police seeking missing Swede in London

British police have issued a plea for tips in the search to find Swedish national Sofie Marie Jansson who hasn't been seen for almost a week. READ () »

University applications rocket to record high

University applications rocket to record high

Swedish universities continue to draw vast amounts of applicants with the number of prospective students seeking a third level education increasing for the seventh year in a row. READ () »

Man jailed in US over Lars Vilks murder plot
Swedish artist Lars Vilks pictured in New York in 2012. Photo: Linus Sundahl-Djerf/TT

Man jailed in US over Lars Vilks murder plot

American authorities have sentenced a 20-year-old accomplice of 'Jihad Jane' to five years in prison for an attempted terror plot to kill Swedish artist Lars Vilks, after getting involved with the murder plans when he was a teenager. READ () »

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
TT
Society
Kids in Victorian garb mark Swedish Easter
Shutterstock
National
Swedish MP ordered chemtrail probe
Society
Swedish supermarket Ica pulls contested Easter commercial off air
Kungahuset
Society
Swedish royals set baptism date for princess
finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 16
Politics
Who's the prime minister's heir?
Alfie Atkins
Society
Are children's books the key to families integrating in Sweden?
National
'Sweden Dem protests cater to party's martyr image'
National
'Swedish research grants were fantastic, but now it's like Australia'
Society
Only in Sweden: The ten problems you'd never encounter elsewhere
National
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
Advertisement:
YouTube
Features
Video: Oliver Gee finds out how to embrace The Swedish Hug
TT
National
Abba duo hints at reunion
Private
National
Flash mobs hug it out across Sweden
Finest.se
Gallery
People-watching April 11-13
TT
Politics
Swedes to give six-hour workday a go
TT
Society
Aussie choir member wows Abba in Sweden
YouTube
Society
Stockholm magic a surprise YouTube hit
Fastighetsbyrån
Society
Gallery: The Local's Property of the Week
Private
Society
Swedes find 200-year-old gravestone in living room
Stockholm School of Economics
Sponsored Article
Why a bachelor's degree is no longer enough
Deepti Vashisht
Features
Deepti Vashisht dissects the magic of Sweden's personal ID number
Shutterstock
Society
Ten signs you've been in Sweden too long
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 »

729
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:
www.swedishdowntown.com