'We had to make the party look fit to govern'
Published: 25 Jan 2013 12:30 GMT+01:00
Updated: 25 Jan 2013 12:30 GMT+01:00
One year into the job, Social Democrat leader Stefan Löfven appears to have kept the party's poll numbers from dropping, but is now facing demands to make the party a dominant force in Swedish politics.
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Sweden's main opposition party had long held more than 40 percent of Swedish voters’ support, but during Juholt’s tenure, voter support tumbled to record lows – only about one in four Swedes said they supported the party.
In the melee, internal divisions between leftist and centrists factions of the party were laid bare to the public.
One year on, many of the party’s MPs say there is a renewed sense of optimism within the party.
“One thing we had to do was to make sure the party looked fit to govern, without which we wouldn’t have people voting for us,” Löfven told the TT news agency.
Löfven, the former head of the powerful IF Metall metal workers union, has not brought with him any radical changes to the party platform.
He has, however, focused on employment, education and business. Questions regarding social security, sick leave, and redistribution policies have not been discussed in much detail.
"Already in my first speech I said that jobs would be my focus," he said.
A few new proposals have been made public, such as an education contract for teenagers and young adults who have not finished high school.
His party has also home in on the debate on education and innovation.
When the party presented its shadow budget last year, Löfven dubbed it "a business plan" for Sweden, which drew some left-wing criticism for having adapted to middle-class rhetoric.
Löfven retorted that the party had always attempted to speak to as many voter groups as possible in order to find common ground in tackling societal issues.
Once Löfven took over from Juholt, whose brief leadership was overshadowed by concerns that he was incorrectly receiving second-home compensation for not only himself but his partner, opinions poll started to show renewed trust in the party.
Yet the upswing hit a plateau and now hovers around the 33 to 34-percent mark.
To put the figure in perspective, it is only a few percentage points higher than the result achieved by the party in what the Social Democrats call the "catastrophic" 2010 elections.
With Löfven at its helm, the party now hopes a political offensive during his second year will bump up poll numbers and help the party return to power in the 2014 elections.
Political scientist Ulf Bjereled, however, said there is a risk that the Social Democrats will get used to their historically low voter confidence and become "a party like any other," despite ruling Sweden for a huge swathe of the post-World War II era.
"They need to have more concrete reform proposal to show there is a distinct option to the current government,” Bjereld told TT.
Bjereled added that the main challenge is to find a way to attract the support of young urban voters who work in creative industries, while at the same time keeping the traditional values of the workers party, which despite loosening its ties with the union movement still sympathizes with many of its goals.