Leaders clash on jobs

Employment was the hot topic as the two rivals for the prime minister job clashed in a televised 'duel' on Wednesday evening.

The incumbent, Göran Persson, and leader of the Moderates, Fredrik Reinfeldt, agreed beforehand that the Liberal Party computer scandal that has dominated Swedish politics in recent days would be kept off the agenda.

Instead, they focused on the usual issues – and presented the usual arguments.

Göran Persson painted a rosy picture of the Swedish economy, claiming that 550 new jobs are being created every day and asking why Sweden should change its successful policies.

But at the same time he admitted that employment was the election’s key issue.

“Congratulations that you can say that jobs are the most important question,” responded Fredrik Reinfeldt.

“It took until eleven days before the election before you could say it.”

Persson attacked Reinfeldt for the opposition’s proposal to reduce the benefits for the unemployed, demanding to know how that would lead to more jobs.

“It’s a policy which will rip Sweden apart,” he said.

Reinfeldt claimed that reduced income tax, lower costs to employers and better matching of jobs to job seekers would create more jobs.

The Moderates’ leader also said that the Social Democrats had abandoned vocational training, and that 1.5 million people were stuck outside the walls of the Swedish labour market.

Persson and Reinfeldt had spent much of the day preparing for the first TV debate of the election campaign. Unsurprisingly, both sported the traditional ‘prime ministerial outfit’ of a dark suit, red tie and light shirt.

Reinfeldt brought energy prices into the job debate, demanding to know whether the Social Democrats, together with the Left Party and the Greens, were planning to push prices up.

“I would never consider making energy prices an obstacle for Swedish industry,” promised Göran Persson.

Reinfeldt continued to attack Persson by pointing out that the Social Democrats and their two support parties were still not agreed on how a future government would be formed if they won on September 17th.

On the subject of healthcare, both men were agreed that Sweden should have a publicly financed system, that emergency care usually worked well, and that there were problems with access to less acute care.

But that was where the consensus ended.

Persson warned that the Moderates were planning tax cuts and sell-offs of hospitals in Stockholm, Uppsala, Malmö and Lund.

But Fredrik Reinfeldt countered that Persson was trying to scare voters with policies that the opposition has not proposed.

Instead, he said that the Alliance wanted more decentralised healthcare in Sweden.

“Where’s the danger in giving staff more say, or in increasing patients’ rights?” said Reinfeldt.

The two men will meet again on Friday in a debate on Swedish Radio P1. Then on Sunday they will be back on television, on SVT1.