Polling day for the Swedish general election is the third Sunday in September. That’s September 2006, folks, and we’ve already had two televised party leader debates. We’re in this for the long haul.
But if the campaign is set to be long and gruelling, the one thing it won’t be is boring.
If you disagree with me on that, then you’re not alone. Many people are heartily fed up with the whole campaign before it has even started for real. But coming from a country, Britain, where ideology has been erased almost entirely from politics, to a country where old fashioned socialists battle it out with conservatives and liberals is every bit as refreshing as it is weirdly retro.
Of course, Sweden isn’t the only Western democracy where ideology has reared its head in recent campaigns. Analysts may be divided over the extent of its impact on the result, but religious ideology in the last American presidential election pervaded the whole campaign.
What viewers saw in Sunday’s party leader debate was two sides with very different views of how Sweden should be. Put crudely, the Right put the emphasis on creating jobs through cutting taxes and benefits, and the Left preferred instead to concentrate on defending high levels of unemployment benefit, and accusing the Right of wanting to “Americanize” Sweden’s economy.
Fredrik Reinfeldt, the leader of the conservative Moderate Party, may have tried to do a Blair, and move his party towards the middle ground of Swedish politics, but he is still way to the right of Göran Persson’s left-wing block.
But with unemployment lying somewhere between seven and twenty percent (depending on who counts as unemployed), there’s a real chance for Reinfeldt’s Alliance for Sweden to dent the Social Democrats’ hold on power.
The question remains whether he and his chums in the alliance have moved far enough to the Left to attract dissatisfied Social Democrats. It also remains to be proven whether the four parties of the Right will maintain their united front to the election.
But again the comparisons with Blair are striking – like the British Labour Party in the mid-nineties, the Right is hungry for power, and dissidents realise that a less-than-perfect right-wing government is better for them than another four years of Social Democrats.
The Right certainly cannot afford to be complacent. While Reinfeldt’s Alliance has had a ten point lead in some polls, one survey this week saw their lead cut to just one percent.
This should – and must – lead to a stimulating and high-level debate in the run-up to the next election. Sweden has a real choice next year, and both sides have everything to play for.