Östros was enraged by the language used by the minister when criticizing the left-green opposition’s pledge to spend an extra 12 billion kronor ($1.67 billion) over two years on schools, health and care services.
“It’s pure Toblerone politics. You charge it on your credit card and then send the bill to the Swedish people,” Odell said. The minister, a Christian Democrat, was referring to the 1995 “Toblerone affair” when it emerged that current Social Democrat party leader Mona Sahlin had purchased goods and services for private use on her ministerial credit card. The scandal led to Sahlin taking a three-year time out from politics.
The scandal ruled Sahlin out of the battle to succeed Ingvar Carlsson as party leader, paving the way for Göran Persson to take over, a post he held until Sahlin assumed the role after the 2006 general election defeat.
“I demand an apology from Mats Odell. He’s talking like the Christian right in the United States. This is no way t behave, he should be ashamed of himself,” said Östros.
“This is a serious infringement which has no place in Swedish politics. This is the start of a dirty election campaign of the likes of which we have not seen since the Cossack election,” Östros said, referring to the 1928 Swedish general election which carried a notoriously harsh tone and negative campaigning on both sides.
The opposition on Tuesday announced plans to allocate 12 billion kronor above government budgeted spending on schools, health and care services over two years, a pledge that the government has been quick to criticise.
“They propose new billions by the day. They are going to expand national debt and taxes for companies and people, which will in turn hit tax revenues for municipalities and harm welfare services in the longer term,” Mats Odell said.
In laying out their proposal in an opinion article in the Svenska Dagbladet daily on Tuesday, the opposition parties underlined their view that public services must take priority over tax cuts.
“We left-greens want to invest in a development which creates greater freedom for society and the individual. For that we need strong public finances. Our priority is crystal clear: Welfare must be prioritised over the new major tax cuts,” the four opposition party leaders – Mona Sahlin, Peter Eriksson, Maria Wetterstrand and Lars Ohly – wrote in the Svenska Dagbladet daily on Tuesday.
The coalition projects that their investment “will create 10,000 to 15,000 more jobs within welfare services in local municipalities and counties”.
The four party leaders furthermore directed criticism at the centre-right government for having “seriously weakened possibilities to plan staff expenditures” in the municipal sector with its management of state funding.
Last autumn’s budget saw an additional 17 billion kronor earmarked for the municipal sector in a bid to stave off rising unemployment. Included in the sum was a new, permanent, 5 billion kronor increase in the state’s annual payout to the country’s 290 municipalities.
The government has since observed a stabilization in the sector, with the municipal labour market showing a marked improvement in the months since the announcement of the 2010 bonus and has thus pared this sum back by 12 billion kronor.
But Odell claimed that despite the withdrawal of the funds allocated in the autumn 2009 budget, state support for local government has increased by 26 billion kronor over the mandate period.
“It is at record levels in a historic perspective,” Odell said.