Swedish prime minister’s wit and wisdom revealed

Step aside George Bush and Silvio Berlusconi and step forward Göran Persson, Sweden's king of the surprisingly incautious one liner.

The sayings of the man who has led Sweden for ten years have been collected in a new book, Tänkt och sagt av Göran Persson (“Thoughts and words of Göran Persson” – published by Känguru).

The prime minister’s own cabinet colleagues come in for the worst treatment at the sharp end of his tongue:

“They are kind people, a bit like [cartoon character] Gösta the Badger: they mean well,” the book quotes him as saying.

On another occasion, Persson included himself in a modest assessment of his cabinet: “I don’t lead the world’s most brilliant government. The cabinet ministers are not the cream of the intellectual elite, and we’re not particularly pretty either.”

In a statement sure to make many a feminist shudder, Persson said: “politics is like women – it can be necessary to change partner from time to time.”

Some quotes appear to show flashes of self-depracating wit. Asked whether he could contact George W. Bush easily, he replied:

“It’s possible within one hour – as long as it’s the right hour of the day.” Some other utterances on foreign policy could raise a few eyebrows, such as a statement about one-party state North Korea: “We have to accept the constitution that they have agreed on.”

But if any of this should lead you to doubt his competence – don’t worry. Speaking on energy policy, Persson reassured his audience:

“I studied chemistry and technology at high school, so I understand what nuclear power’s about.”

The book’s editor, Kristoffer Lind, says that Persson is in a class of his own in Swedish politics.

“There has never been a Swedish politician who has said as many funny, astounding and mean things as Göran Persson. In that sense he’s a very modern politician,” Lind says.

“This is not supposed to be a serious book, but if you want to draw a conclusion from this book it is that Göran Persson is very much driven by public opinion. He’s very pragmatic, and says what he thinks people want to hear.”

“A typical example was on 21st December 2000, when he said that pork brawn was ‘a very elegant dish’ and ‘the absolute high-point of Christmas dinner.”

“Two days later, on 23rd December, he said he was “sceptical towards meat dishes.”

Persson himself has not taken kindly to Lind’s book, saying it was published by a “right wing organization”.

Lind insists that he does not have a political axe to grind, and says that Persson’s reaction to the book is a reflection of the fact that Sweden is a small country and everything comes down to politics.

“So when someone publishes a book with funny quotes in it two months before the election, it can’t be anything other than politics – it’s a very dualistic way of looking at things.”

He says he chose Persson “because, for a Swedish politician he’s very unusual in that he says what he thinks.”

“In this sense he’s very un-Swedish – it wouldn’t have been possible for me to produce a book like this about Fredrik Reinfeldt.”

Lind’s publishing company has produced a similar book with quotes from President George W. Bush, but the type of quotations made memorable by Bush are very different from Persson’s gems.

“Bush has a problem with language,” Lind says, “while Persson is very conscious of the language.”

Classic Persson quotes:

“If you were a man I’d punch you on the jaw,” (to an Expressen journalist who had criticized his school policy).

“Have you got a weight problem, Maud?” (to Centre Party leader Maud Olofsson, during a debate in 2002).

“It is very striking what political stability can do for economic development when you look at China”.

“I eat when I’m stressed. I’m doing it now. I scoff down cheese, whole plates of it, four or five bits of different types, at least once a day.”

“No, he’s far too big” (Anitra Steen – aka Mrs Göran Persson – when asked whether she was knitting the prime minister a sweater for Christmas).

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