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Marxists who could sink Persson

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12:20 CET+01:00
You might be able to judge a person by the company he keeps, but can you do the same for a political party? It is looking increasingly likely that any government led by the Social Democrats will also include the Left Party in a formal coalition. Is this the issue that could prove the undoing of Göran Persson?

Both communist Lars Ohly and prime minister Persson have been making increasingly positive noises about the possibilities of a coalition in the past couple of weeks.

But what would a government with Lars Ohly in it look like? Pretty insane, judging by some of the documents spouting forth from Left Party headquarters.

Try their economic policy for instance: apart from quoting approvingly from Marx's Communist Manifesto, the party's economic policy document contains such gems as a six hour working day, renationalization of previously state-owned companies, and policies for large companies to be taken over by workers or the state.

The party also wants further tax increases and expansion of the public sector, while unions would be given the right to decide on required staffing levels in workplaces.

The current goal of keeping inflation down would be ditched and control over interest rates would go to politicians. Much of this would break EU-law, but that doesn't matter, as the Left Party wants to take us out of the EU anyway (it's a dirty capitalist conspiracy, you see).

But surely this is nothing to worry about – it's just the guff you expect from a tinpot bunch of Marxists? And after all, Ohly's party is currently polling only about six percent of the votes. Well, unfortunately, this does matter: the reason this matters is that Ohly could find himself in a very strong position after the next election, if it turns out that Persson needs his support to form a government.

For the past two parliaments, the Social Democrats have ruled with support from the Greens and the Left Party, but neither party has been given a formal place in government. Persson would clearly like to keep it that way – he says he is “seeking voter support for a Social Democrat government”.

But the Social Democrat leader has next to no chance of getting an absolute majority, meaning that once more he will have to rely on support from the other left-wing parties. And the Left Party will looks increasingly unlikely to settle for more of the same. As far as Ohly is concerned, it's payback time: he wants a place in government, and if the electoral maths ends up going in favour of the left-wing, then he could well be in a position to demand it.

In a little under nine months, we could have cabinet ministers arguing for large tax increases in a country which already has one of the world's highest tax burdens. Alternatively, they could be demanding nationalization of industry in a country where the state already owns mining companies, mortgage lenders, drinks makers, pharmacies and betting companies.

Yet while any continuation of Persson's reign will inevitably involve concessions to Ohly, Persson refuses to tell voters before the election which of the Left Party's policies he's willing to adopt. Whereas the centre-right Alliance is producing detailed policy documents so that voters know where they stand, the other potential coalition is refusing to reveal its hand.

Persson needs to find a response to the Left Party question. But the reason Persson is blustering and evading the question is that he is short of palatable solutions. A response that both reassures centrist voters and keeps Ohly on side is going to be hard to find. And with an opposition marching across the centre-ground, centrist Social Democrats are not short of potential alterantive homes.

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