Gay marriage and defence in focus at Moderate conference

Fredrik Reinfeldt's Moderate Party starts its annual conference on Thursday with a mountain to climb if it is to recover the poll rating it enjoyed when it was elected just over a year ago.

A poll by Sifo earlier this month gave the four-party government its lowest rating since the election, trailing the opposition by 11 percent.

But the message from the party leadership is that the party’s move towards the centre-ground of Swedish politics will not be reversed.

One of the key issues to be voted on at the conference is a proposal to allow gay marriage – something the leadership is keen to push through. If, as seems likely, the conference adopts the motion, the Christian Democrats will be the only party not to support a gender-neutral marriage law.

Supporting gay marriage would also serve to complete the Moderates’ transformation from a traditional conservative party to a more centrist organization, but it is a big step for traditional-minded members.

Anti-gay marriage supporters, drawn mainly from the Catholic and evangelical churches, have this week taken out adverts to urge politicians to reject the proposal. Among those involved in the group is Anna-Maria Corazza Bildt, wife of Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. While most ministers have expressed support, former prime minister Bildt has refused to state his position on the issue.

Party members’ support for the leadership will also be put to the test on the issue of defence cuts. Defence Minister Mikael Odenberg, himself a Moderate, resigned last month over the cutbacks.

With the party traditionally a supporter of defence, Reinfeldt and Finance Minister Anders Borg are expected by many commentators to get a rough ride from members. Delegates from Blekinge in southern Sweden, home to much of the defence industry, are likely to be critical of the cuts.

Other questions likely to create divisions will be working rights and a goal for 40 percent of the most senior positions in the party to be reserved for women. On working rights, official policy is now to preserve strict ‘last in first out’ rules, something that grates with the right of the party. On recruiting more women to the party, some delegates will be anxious to ensure that the proposal does not lead to a quota system.