The conservative opposition parties attacked the government’s record on getting the jobless into work, saying that the ruling Social Democrats were passive. But the socialists struck back, accusing the opposition of wanting to take away benefits from the unemployed.
“The real unemployment rate is 17% and the number of hours worked is now less than in the 1970s,” said the leader of the Liberal Party, Lars Leijonborg.
Center Party leader Maud Olofsson taunted the government over their May 1st parade, in which placards boasted of “jobs for all”.
“Have you thrown away all the signs?” she wondered.
“The prime minister never utters a word on how we are going to get more jobs and companies in the private sector.”
Göran Persson responded by explaining that there would soon be more vacancies for unemployed graduates in the state sector, such as in the benefits office and in local councils where “many employees are old”.
But the prime minister had more than just good news in his armoury. He also played on the Swedish public’s fear of the unknown by painting an alarming picture of the opposition’s intentions:
“The shock of insecurity which the moderate policies represent, by targeting the weakest, will result in a fall in domestic demand, a drop in people’s desire to consume like we have never seen before,” said Göran Persson.
“It is an unbelievably dangerous policy in a time of international insecurity to attack the system makes ordinary people feel secure.”
Fredrik Reinfeldt, the leader of the main opposition party, the Moderates, emphasised that he wants people to feel a financial incentive to work.
“We know that you want to work,” he said, directing his speech to the voting public. “We know that you see that it is not worth it and that you expect it to be more rewarding to work. That is why will are combining reduced income tax for those who earn the least, with a tighter benefits system. This is the combination which will reduce this effect.”
But the Left Party’s Lars Ohly wasn’t having any of it.
“You’re pushing down salaries, especially for the lowest earners, so your policies are both anti-earners and anti-women and utterly unjust,” he said.
“How do lower salaries lead to more people working?” he mused.
As Swedish Radio’s commentator, Fredrik Furtenbach, pointed out, the parties are agreed on the most important issue in the run-up to the next election. But that is where the similarity ends.
“The parties are describing completely different realities,” he noted.