Prime Minister’s house “threatens his credibility”

The administrative court has overturned a decision by Flen district council to keep secret the plans for Prime Minister Göran Persson's new house beside Lake Båven in Södermanland.

But as soon as the plans were made public, Persson’s critics seized upon the opportunity to call into question his “credibility as a Social Democrat”.

The building will be in the style of an 18th century manor house, with a main living area and two detached wings.

In total, there will be 350 square metres of living space. The ground floor will contain a dining room, living room, a library and a big kitchen with a wood-burning stove. Upstairs, visitors will find a master bedroom with an en-suite bathroom, a couple of other double bedrooms, another bathroom.

Göran Persson and his wife – the head of Systembolaget, Anitra Steen – will be able to do a spot of paperwork in the large office with its three windows facing Lake Båven.

Sweden’s security police, Säpo, argued in the spring that the plans should remain secret. But even then, the price – up to 7 million kronor to build the property on top of the 12.5 million paid for the land – brought criticism from the Social Democrat ranks.

The party line is now that the Prime Minister should be able to build whatever house he likes. But Ursula Berge, head of the radical social think-tank, Agora, told Svenska Dagbladet that the effect with the voters may be rather more negative.

“I consider it absolutely critical that a labour movement’s leader understands what matters to the workers,” she said.

“The further away you get from that, the bigger the problem for social democracy.”

The workers among Aftonbladet’s readers certainly seemed to agree.

In a somewhat unscientific poll on the paper’s web site, readers were asked, ‘can the Prime Minister build a luxury house and represent the labour movement?’. Three quarters of respondents answered ‘no’.

The paper’s columnist, Lena Mellin, argued that it is not the house or the land itself which has riled readers. Instead, it is the choice of lifestyle: the PM, she said, has adopted the old elite’s way of life.

“A good job in the city. A manor house in the country with generous opportunities to invite guests for the weekend. Just like the Swedish aristocracy lived – and in certain cases still lives. Or the British.”

But if Persson’s house has upset the workers, it hasn’t won him many friends among architects.

Various celebrity architects described the plans as anonymous and conventional.

“A dull pastiche” said Olof Hultin, editor of the magazine Arkitektur.

“It seems as though Göran Persson hasn’t got the hang of design,” he added.

Göran Persson has only spoken publicly once about his house, to the local paper, Eskilstuna-Kuriren, and he appeared unconcerned about how the house would be seen be others.

“I think that you should be happy that you can create something which is beautiful and permanent,” he said.

Sources: Svenska Dagbladet, Aftonbladet