Troubled Left Party gathers for conference

On Thursday 225 delegates are gathering in Gothenburg for the Left Party's four day conference, the first for the party since February 2004.

At that conference Lars Ohly was selected as leader and this year he is expected to retain his position. There is only one other candidate, Johan Lönnroth, who even admits that his opposition to Ohly is nothing more than symbolic. He will probably withdraw before the vote on Friday, he says.

But this apparent unity conceals very real problems for the Left Party.

The past 12 months have seen voter support dwindling as the party lurched from one public relations disaster to another. Support for the party is currently hovering just above the 4% required to get into parliament – a far cry from the halcyon days of the late 1990s when it held 12% of the seats in parliament.

The lack of voter support has corresponded with – and perhaps has been fuelled by – some high profile ship-jumping, starting in December 2004 with former leader Gudrun Schyman, who went on to form the Feminist Initiative.

In August, party secretary Pernilla Zethraeus announced that she would also be leaving. She emphatically denied that it was due to differences with Lars Ohly – and then added a caveat.

Ohly repeatedly declared himself to be a communist, something which Zethraeus felt uncomfortable with.

“For a great many people, that has become synonymous with Eastern states, dictatorships and Stalinism,” she said.

“That doesn’t work for me.”

Nor did it work for voters and in October, after a year of ridicule from his political opponents both inside and outside the Left Party, Ohly decided to change his tune.

“I don’t think I’ll use that definition in future,” said Ohly on Swedish Television’s Agenda programme on Sunday evening.

“Primarily to remove a barrier in conversations with people,” he explained.

Whether that will be enough to restore the party’s credibility before the election remains to be seen. The Left vote has already been diluted by Gudrun Schyman’s feminist party but there is a new, potentially greater, threat on the horizon: The New Left.

This seed of a new party was first planted in Sweden’s political soil in September, when one of the founders told Swedish Radio that the idea was to form a movement that would be ready to compete in the 2010 election.

Now it seems that the target may have been brought closer.

Ann-Marie Lidmark, a former local Social Democrat politician said that changes in the Left Party at this week’s conference could alienate enough people to make a new party viable.

“I hope that this will happen for the 2006 election but it is possible that we won’t be ready or feel that we aren’t strong enough,” she said.

“It takes an awful lot to start a new party to compete in an election.”