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Parties mobilise for election

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13:45 CEST+02:00
The struggle for voters ahead of Sweden's general election next September has started. The Social Democrats need to go on the offensive, and the opposition needs to defend its lead.

The conservative-liberal Alliance has a significant lead in the polls. Among Social Democrats, widespread dejection is being reported.

Carina Persson, the governing party's head of communications, has a key role in both lifting spirits and reversing the poor poll ratings.

"Election workers are our most important tool," she says.

"We have strength in numbers, and we know it."

The job of refining canvassers' arguments for the party's politics is already underway. Party representatives have been meeting for a motivational conference, and at local level the party os organising seminars on election tactics.

The Social Democrats intend to run a "very traditional" campaign, where meetings in town squares will again play a key role. The election budget is calculated at around 50 million kronor - about the same as at the last election. The aim is to win 40 percent of the votes.

At party headquarters they are carrying out their own opinion polls, to find out which voter groups the Social Democrats have lost ground with, and which questions are vote-winners. During the past few weeks, a number of former Social Democrat voters have returned to the party from the Liberal party.

This is seen as one of the effects of the opposition's proposed cuts in social benefits and the government's proposal to increase sick benefits and child benefits for middle-income groups. Election promises have already been made of better care for the elderly, higher unemployment benefits and cheaper dental care.

The Social Democrats admit that they are starting the campaign in a bad position, but reassure themselves that it looked much worse in 1991 when the conservative-liberals last took power. Back then, the mood in the country was more right-wing, whereas today people have more left-wing views on tax and welfare.

The Moderate Party intends to defend its current thirty percent share of voter support.

"Our main task is to ensure that those who say that they'll vote for the Moderates actually do to in the election," says the party's communications director Per Schlingmann.

The Moderates have reformed their politics since their disastrous defeat in 2002. Now their tax cuts are smaller and are more focused on low and middle-income workers. Healthcare and education are priorities, and savings will be made in the benefits system.

The party's tone and way of communicating has also been changed. Today's Moderates are supposed to sound more pragmatic and less techocratic when they meet voters.

"Policies must be practical, the budget has to add up and people must have time to adjust themselves," says Schlingmann.

The party has re-branded itself as "the new workers' party", "the New Moderates", and declares "we love Sweden".

The main messages for the election are clear and have begun to rub off on voters: "work ahead of welfare", "tougher measures against crime", and "it should be profitable to work."

The Moderates' offensive strategy has been to show that unemployment is much higher than the Social Democrats admit, and that the government is trying to hide the real unemployment figures through not counting people on welfare-to-work programmes, those on sick leave and those who are in early retirement.

Schlingmann believes that the party's focus on getting more people into work has attracted former Social Democrat voters who "work and pay their way."

In the last campaign the Moderates had a budget of 42 million kronor, but ended up 10 million in the red. This time the budget will be "significantly lower."

The conservative-liberal Alliance is being seen as a trump card in attracting voters' attention. The two summit meetings of the party leaders, at the Centre Party leader's home in Högfors and at the Christian Democrat leader's house in Bankeryd, as well as the parties' round-Sweden train tours, have attracted widespread media attention.

New tours are planned over the next year.

"Travelling is a symbolic way of showing that we prefer to be out in the real world than sitting in parliament," says Schlingmann.

TT/The Local

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