• 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

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

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
National
Swedish town 'like Venice' after heavy rains
Photo: TT

Swedish town 'like Venice' after heavy rains

Torrential rains in western Sweden have left some towns submersed as water levels have risen to 1.5 metres above normal for the season with forecasts indicating that is worse to come. READ  

Ebola crisis
Sweden pledges new aid to UN Ebola fund
Photo: TT

Sweden pledges new aid to UN Ebola fund

Sweden has offered a new sizeable contribution to the fund set up by UN chief Ban K-moon to fight the Ebola outbreak. READ  

Society
'Dark forces' target refugee hunting scheme
Photo: Lars-Göran Thuresson/Älgriket

'Dark forces' target refugee hunting scheme

The Swedish hunting association runs a project to encourage young asylum-seekers to learn about hunting, a move which has proved controversial among some far right groups. READ  

Business & Money
American sales squeeze Ericsson profits
Ericsson CEO Hans Vestberg presents the third-quarter earnings report at the company's headquarters in Kista. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

American sales squeeze Ericsson profits

Swedish telecoms equipment maker Ericsson reported a decline in net profit in the third quarter despite an increase in sales, boosted by business in emerging markets. READ  

Interview
'Too many concerts feel the same'
Sofar hosts secret gigs in Swedish apartments. Photo: Sofar

'Too many concerts feel the same'

Kattis Bjork founded Stockholm's secret gig scene - Sofar - a year ago. The Local caught up with her as she prepared to celebrate the project's anniversary this weekend and revealed the concept will spread to other Swedish cities in 2015. READ  

Stockholm 'sub hunt'
Sweden calls off suspect submarine search
Ships are returning to shore in Sweden. Photo: TT

Sweden calls off suspect submarine search

The core search for a suspected foreign vessel in Swedish waters has been called off. The armed forces said they remained convinced foreign underwater activity had taken place but had not identified an intruder. READ  

Business & Money
US and Japan fuel surge for Volvo trucks
Ed Carbaugh prepares to install parts on a truck engine on an assembly line at Volvo Trucks' powertrain manufacturing facility in Hagerstown, Maryland, March 2014. Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP

US and Japan fuel surge for Volvo trucks

Sweden's Volvo, the world's second-largest maker of trucks, said Friday it saw a spike in profits in the third quarter, boosted by thriving sales in the US and Japanese markets. READ  

Inspectors attacked at rogue doc’s surgery
Cigarettes and beer photo: Shutterstock

Inspectors attacked at rogue doc’s surgery

Inspectors who were sent to shut down a doctor’s surgery in Gothenburg were physically attacked and fled the premises to get help from the police. READ  

Police turn Swede’s vodka into water
A Swede loads a car with alcohol in northern Germany. File photo: Drago Prvulovic/TT

Police turn Swede’s vodka into water

Swedish police say they will pay a man 16,000 kronor ($2,200) in damages after much of the alcohol they confiscated from him was stolen, while many of the bottles they returned were filled with water. READ  

Diplomacy
US to get first female ambassador in Sweden
File photo: Athena Center for Leadership Studies

US to get first female ambassador in Sweden

The United States Embassy in Stockholm is set to get its first female ambassador after the White House announced it was nominating the Iranian-American ex-investment banker Azita Raji to take over from Mark Brzezinski. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Lifestyle
What's On in Sweden: October 24th - 31st
Gallery
People-watching: October 22nd
Gallery
In Pictures: Prince Carl Philip and Sofia Hellqvist
Lifestyle
Eight things to love about renting a Swedish apartment
National
Vasa ship cannon blasted in Sweden
Blog updates

24 October

Editor’s blog, October 24th (The Local Sweden) »

"Hi readers, Get ready to read our weekly digest of Swedish news in less than 60 seconds. The..." READ »

 

24 October

Is darkness weather? (Blogweiser) »

"I try very hard not to talk about the weather. This has come after a decade..." READ »

 
 
 
National
Sub hunt: Day-by-day
National
Sub hunt: Stockholm islanders share their fears with The Local
Sponsored Article
The best options for oversea transfers
National
Get 20% off unique Swedish homeware
National
Dentist gives free care to Roma beggars
Business & Money
Get your own office in Gothenburg or Stockholm - free for a day
Gallery
Property of the week: Malmö
Gallery
PHOTOS: 'Foreign activity' in Swedish waters
Gallery
People-watching: October 19th
TT
Society
QUIZ: How good is your Swedish?
Lifestyle
What's on in Sweden: October 17th - 24th
Society
The nudity... and nine other things expat men notice in Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 15th
Gallery
Your views: Should outdoor smoking be banned in Sweden?
Business & Money
Sweden has 'large hole' in finances
Sponsored Article
Introducing... Finding a job in Stockholm
Society
Monster salmon caught in northern Sweden
Gallery
Property of the week: Lorensberg
National
Scandinavia's child bride
National
Ebola crisis: How is Sweden preparing?
Business & Money
How Sweden is becoming a cashless society
Gallery
Stockholm Burlesque Festival 2014
National
How a little red horse became a symbol for Sweden
Gallery
People-watching: October 12th
Business & Money
The hottest start-ups from southern Sweden
National
What's on in Sweden: October 10th - 17th
National
Stockholm is 'best' region for well-being
Gallery
People-watching: October 8th
National
Five facts to know about Patrick Modiano
Society
My Swedish Career: A French fashionista in Sweden
Society
Swede's anti-bully Facebook tale goes viral
Society
Have you seen Sweden's viral subway cancer campaign?
National
Isis: Swedes linked to Turkish prisoner swap
National
Should Swedes be banned from buying sex abroad?
Gallery
Fredrik Reinfeldt's leaving presents
National
Five Swedish TV shows you shouldn't miss
Gallery
A tool belt, a casserole, and a book. Fredrik Reinfeldt's parliament gifts
TT
Lifestyle
Top five winter festivals in Sweden
TT
National
Sami reindeer herders win mine reprieve
Gallery
Property of the Week: Gamla Enskede
Sponsored Article
How to catch the first lobster of the year
Team SCA
Sponsored Article
All-female SCA team takes off on Volvo Ocean Race
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

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 Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

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

974
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
PSD Media
PSD Media is marketing company that offers innovative solutions for online retailers. We provide modern solutions that help increase traffic and raise conversion. Visit our site at:
http://psdmedia.se
If you want to drink, that’s your business.
If you want to stop, we can help.

Learn more about English-language Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden. No dues. No fees. Confidentiality assured.
AA-EUROPE.ORG/SWEDEN