International reaction: Persson’s lesson for Britain

Britain's governing Labour Party and its leaders should heed the lessons of the Swedish general election over the weekend, British newspapers warned on Tuesday.

Sweden’s next prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, 41, led the centre-right Alliance for Sweden coalition to election victory on Sunday, just three years after being elected head the Moderate Party.

The left-of-centre Guardian daily notes that the defeated Social Democrat Prime Minister Göran Persson “stands today where (British Prime Minister) Tony Blair’s enemies would like to see him – booted out of office after leading a ruling centre-left party for too long.”

“Faced with a new, energetic, media-smart and younger opposition leader in the Moderate party’s Fredrik Reinfeldt – strong echoes of (main opposition Conservative Party leader) David Cameron in Britain – Mr Persson was unable to persuade voters that they should give him another mandate.”

The newspaper, which supported Labour at the last general election in May 2005, noted: “The larger lesson is that when a government is tired and a fresh-sounding opposition does not look too threatening, there can be an opportunity for electoral change, as Mr Blair found in 1997 and Mr Cameron hopes to show in the future.”

The issue of Blair’s leadership has come to the forefront in recent weeks after a growing rebellion within his own government which saw eight junior members resign demanding he step down. The chaos forced Blair to publicly vow to step down within a year, though he declined to set a specific date.

The Times, a right-of-centre daily, proclaimed: “Many politicians in Britain believe that they have glimpsed the future.”

“And it is Swedish.”

Drawing parallels between Reinfeldt and Cameron the newspaper’s editorial reads: “A young and articulate conservative leader with a gift for presentation has sufficiently modernised his party to topple the reigning but tired left-of-centre government.”

Cameron, who was elected as leader of the opposition in December, has helped the Conservatives take leads over Labour in opinion polls in Britain recently.

The newspaper also warns finance minister Gordon Brown, the odds-on favourite to succeed Blair as prime minister: “The Swedish result suggests that simply presiding over a reasonably successful economy is no guarantee of re-election for a party that has been in power for more than a decade.”

“And herein lie wider lessons for Labour.

“Unless Mr Brown can present himself as distinctive, voters may look elsewhere.”

Finally, junior education minister Lord Andrew Adonis, writing in The Financial Times in a comment piece titled “Swedish result is a warning Labour must heed”, echoed the views of The Times’s editorial writers, calling on Labour to speed up the process of market-based reforms for public services.

“We must continue to be ahead of the game on welfare and public service reform,” Adonis, a Blair supporter, wrote.

“After 12 years in office, the centre-left’s credibility in leading the next phase of modernisation was a big issue in the recent (Swedish) election, as it will be in the next British election, too.

“Competition between its (Sweden’s) centre-left and centre-right parties focuses on more, not less change,” he wrote.

“We should all take note.”