Sweden Elects: What we learned from party leaders’ keynote speeches

The key points from the main parties – and a recent poll which shows that the Sweden Democrats could find themselves in a position they're not used to in the upcoming Swedish election. The Local's Emma Löfgren rounds up the week in politics.

Sweden Elects: What we learned from party leaders' keynote speeches
Centre Party leader Annie Lööf may hold the role of king maker in the Swedish election. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

What was supposed to be a week of political debate and the informal start of the 2022 election campaign turned into tragedy when one of Sweden’s leading voices on mental health was stabbed to death at the heart of the country’s political festival, Almedalen Week, by a man with links to neo-Nazi organisations.

My colleagues have covered the attack extensively on The Local, and journalist David Crouch wrote about what it means for Swedish democracy in this article.

A roundup of the party leaders’ Almedalen speeches

What new policy proposals came out of Almedalen? Not many, and the biggest surprise was the lack of surprises and policy initiatives, but as is tradition the party leaders all gave a keynote speech each – here’s a roundup of what they said.

Green Party co-leader Per Bolund said his party wanted to invest 100 billion kronor a year on speeding up the green transition, but spoke for over 13 minutes before mentioning the environment, saying that they were campaigning on a promise to boost welfare in schools and healthcare.

Annie Lööf of the Centre Party, who took the stage just five hours after the stabbing, rejected “political gimmicks, conflicts and harsh words” and presented herself as a unifying figure in the middle of Swedish politics – or the party that has the power to potentially become king makers.

Johan Pehrson, whose likeability has taken poll support for his Liberals over the parliament’s four percent threshold in the first three months of his leadership, performed less well than expected in a slightly disjointed speech, but managed to position himself as the moral conscience of the right – also a unifying figure who vowed to protect aid spending, asylum rights, and LGBTQ issues.

Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson, on the other hand, did not focus on unity, with much of his speech preoccupied with criticising the prime minister. The anti-immigration party also published 100 policy proposals, including reintroducing regular border checks, making antisocial behaviour grounds for deportation, a lifetime ban on returning to Sweden if you receive a deportation order, a new census and making foreign criminals serve time in prisons abroad.

In something akin to throwing spaghetti on the wall and seeing if it sticks, it is currently unclear what we’re calling the rising rate of inflation and higher costs, with the prime minister trying to launch the expression “Putin prices”, Åkesson calling them “Social Democrat prices” and Christian Democrat leader Ebba Busch using “Magda prices” to put the blame on Andersson herself. None of them roll easily off the tongue, do they?

Busch otherwise positioned herself as the defender of the middle class right to the comforts of owning a “villa, Volvo and vovve” (a house, a Volvo and a dog – no relation to The Local’s book of the same name!) and tried to convince rural Centre Party voters uncomfortable with the party’s left-ish move to give the Christian Democrats a try.

She was not the only one who tried to paint a picture of Sweden returning to better, more comfortable times. Left Party leader Nooshi Dadgostar continued her quest to appeal to traditional working class Social Democrat voters who may be feeling disillusioned with their own party’s move to the right and neglected by the Left’s campaign to attract young urbanites.

She also said that the Left Party would want a ministerial portfolio in a centre-left government after the election and made its support for the Social Democrats contingent on banning schools from making a profit – a proposal that the centre-left Social Democrats and Green Party are also largely in favour of, but which the Centre Party is very much against. It will be impossible for the Social Democrats to form a government without the backing of all three parties – although a recent poll by newspaper Aftonbladet and pollsters Demoskop suggests that if they succeed, the centre-left will have enough support to hold on to power.

That poll also has support for the Sweden Democrats falling compared to the last election, which could mean that Åkesson could be heading towards the first election in which his party does not grow. It could still be a successful election for them if the other parties of the right perform well enough to take power and give them an influential role, but for the first time he is dependent on other parties to be able to claim success.

The Moderate Party’s Ulf Kristersson, the leader of the right-wing opposition, won’t have an easier time than the left to form a government – which perhaps explains why he took the time to praise the Christian Democrats and the Sweden Democrats. He also pledged to stop all tax rises, dubbing the September 11th election a plånboksval (a “pocketbook election”).

Reader insights

I wrote about Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson’s uncharacteristically patriotic speech for her governing Social Democrats in last week’s newsletter and invited readers to comment. Thanks to everyone who emailed. Here’s one comment that sums up what nearly all of you told me:

“As an American immigrant, any calls to patriotism or national pride tend to make me very nervous – in the US those tend to be dog whistles for racism and nationalism, the worst of our country. Especially combined with the recent news like refugee resettlement, Turkish deportation, language requirements, and joining the Nato alliance, it makes me feel unsettled. Anti-immigrant nationalism, alliance with right-wing authoritarians in other countries, and pro-military jingoism is a bad road to be on.”

Sweden Elects is a new weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in the Swedish election race. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column plus several extra features as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.

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Sweden Elects: Why is the climate crisis not a bigger issue in the Swedish election?

Will the summer heatwave push the environmental agenda to the forefront of the Swedish election campaign? The Local's editor Emma Löfgren asks journalist and sociologist Dominic Hinde to explain how Sweden views the climate crisis – and how to figure out who to vote for in the election.

Sweden Elects: Why is the climate crisis not a bigger issue in the Swedish election?

Sweden last week recorded its highest temperature since 1947 – and it came close to beating its all-time record. And we’re not the only ones. Europe and the rest of the world have seen the impact of the climate crisis in recent years, we’ve seen how it’s putting lives and livelihoods at risk.

Green issues are not absent from the agenda in the run-up to Sweden’s September 11th election, but many are asking why they’re not front and centre. Even when the Green Party co-leader himself gave his most high-profile speech of the year the other week, while much of the speech was indeed dedicated to the climate, it took him over 13 minutes to get there.

For The Local’s Sweden Elects newsletter, I asked Dominic Hinde, a former foreign correspondent in the Nordic countries and sociologist of environmental communication (you can follow him on Twitter here), to help explain what role the climate crisis might play in the Swedish election campaign and to voters on election day: 

Why is the climate crisis not a bigger issue in the Swedish election? Or is that about to change ‘thanks to’ the current heatwave in Europe?

“Sweden is in a strange position in that voters care about the environment a lot, and throughout the 80s, 90s and 2000s we saw parties compete for environmentally minded voters. Most people probably don’t know for example that in the 70s not only did the Centre Party hold the post of PM, they ran the campaign on a strong environmental ticket. In the 80s the Greens entered parliament, and the bigger parties started to change their image and policies towards being more sustainable.

“This led to lots of progress compared to many other countries, and Sweden became known as a bit of a green pioneer, but the problem is that now people think Sweden doesn’t need to do any more because most visible environmental problems have been made to disappear. The issue is that as Sweden is so rich, Swedes still produce a lot of carbon, taking holidays in the US or Thailand and buying lots of consumer goods.

“What we’ve seen in the election is a clash between people like the Greens and some in the Centre and Social Democrats who want to have more deep and meaningful transition, and those further to the right on the spectrum who think Swedes should not have to pay any more for their lifestyles or change how they live. It will be interesting to see whether Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson’s statement that he would make sure the middle and upper classes he wants to vote for him don’t need to adapt their lifestyles gets a bad reception after the summer heatwave.”

How well do Swedish media cover the climate crisis and what needs to improve?

“In many ways Sweden has a good record on covering the climate crisis. Swedish public service media and the big newspapers have all taken a keen interest in climate change since it was brought to mainstream attention in the early 1990s. Unlike the US or the UK Swedish media has never really tried to deny climate change to any great degree, though the suggested solutions have of course varied depending on political views. If we look at a newspaper like Aftonbladet for example, it has often been more radical on climate change than the Social Democratic party it nominally supports, and equally Svenska Dagbladet has had some really good climate journalism despite some reluctance to move quickly from the Moderate and Liberal parties it would ordinarily support.

“There’s no shortage of good information out there, but journalists can only inform and not tell people how to vote.”

What are Sweden’s strengths and weaknesses in terms of environmental policies?

“Sweden is lucky in that it industrialised late and was able to electrify large parts of the country with hydro power, topped up with nuclear from the 1960s. That means that Sweden already had low emissions compared to the rest of Western Europe and has been able to build upon that. There is some really exciting stuff happening such as the zero-carbon steel plant in northern Sweden and a new electric car industry, but Swedes are also very eager consumers and use a lot of energy travelling around and keeping warm in the winter especially.

“A good example of the problems we still have is something like the new Stockholm western bypass road. It is going to cost 28 billion kronor and the government’s own figures show it might increase car use in and around Stockholm, but the government pushed ahead with it because there was a demand from commuters and suburban swing voters. Then of course there is also the question of ‘Thailandsresor’ (trips to Thailand) and other luxuries Swedes have grown to love. A single trip to Bangkok cancels out every bit of green behaviour your average Swede might do in a whole year, from cycling to work to going vegan, but those emissions don’t count as Swedish as they mostly happen somewhere over Central Asia.”

If you’re a voter who cares about the environment, what are some key party policies or soundbites to keep an ear out for in the election campaign? I.e. what Swedish issues matter the most in terms of having an impact on climate change?

“This is a tricky question. Naturskyddsföreningen (The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation) use experts to rank the policies of parties at each election, with the Greens coming out top across the board and the Left, Social Democrats, Liberals and Centre coming in behind them, and the Moderates and Sweden Democrats ranking much lower, as do the Christian Democrats.

“Obviously the readers of The Local will want to make a choice based on other questions too such as the economy, taxation and business interests, but right now we are seeing a lot of smoke and mirrors around the question of fuel prices for example. In the medium-term, investment in shifting to electric cars and making use of Sweden’s exceptionally easy access to electrical power will bring bills down more than cutting the price of fuel at the pump can.

“The biggest contribution Sweden can probably make to cutting global emissions is to function as a kind of lab for what works. If Sweden can show it can be done then other developing countries could follow, and that is really important. Parties that pledge to invest in groundbreaking green technologies and in the famously shaky rail network are likely to be of more long-term benefit to the environment. It is also worth looking out for what they have to say on resilience and getting Sweden ready to deal with things like floods and forest fires.

“We can also say that voters in Sweden are lucky in that they can vote for a greener voice in a few different ways. The Green party provide an outlet for more left-minded environmentally conscious voters, but if you don’t want to vote for the Greens the Centre are a good bet for more economically liberal people who don’t quite trust the other centre-right parties on the environment.

“If you have the right to vote in Sweden, even if it is just in local elections, then it is worth taking the time to go to and talk to each of the parties when they set up shop in town squares around the election. They’ll likely all promise you they’re the best but if you go armed with some facts you’ll soon find out who knows their stuff and who is bluffing!”

Sweden Elects is a new weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in the Swedish election race. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column plus several extra features as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.