Sweden Elects: ‘The modern Swedish pathology is that no one takes responsibility for anything’

In this week's Sweden Elects, The Local's editor Emma Löfgren asks Nicholas Aylott, associate professor of political science at Södertörn University, to share his thoughts about the key issues that will define the Swedish election.

Sweden Elects: 'The modern Swedish pathology is that no one takes responsibility for anything'
Who does the voter blame or praise for the consequences of Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson's policies? Photo: Marko Säävälä/TT

What do you think readers of The Local need to know about Swedish politics?

“Swedish party politics hasn’t usually been that different from politics in most European countries. The country has a parliamentary system, which means that the head of government, the prime minister, is the person preferred by a majority of the members of parliament. What’s more, it has usually been easy, after an election, to see who that preferred person was. The parties tended to divide into two blocs, one on the right, one on the left. Whichever of the two blocs had attained a majority would provide the prime minister and the government.

“Things have been much more uncertain and unstable since 2010, when the Sweden Democrats were first elected to parliament. All the other parties disliked them, but some gradually became tempted to reach some accommodation with them. Others couldn’t stomach that prospect. The disagreement made it hard to form any stable majority in parliament.

“Now, though, we may be getting back to a more stable pattern. The Sweden Democrats look to have been accepted as part of the right bloc. Perhaps the bigger question is whether the Centre Party can accept that it is now a part of the left bloc. If so, we will be back on more stable terrain. For me, this is the question of which everyone following Swedish politics ought to be aware.”

Which issue do you think will define the Swedish election?

“The biggest party, the Social Democrats, whose leader, Magdalena Andersson, is prime minister, will be keen for one very topical issue to stay low down on the agenda. That issue is Sweden’s Nato membership. Her government’s application to the alliance has happened so quickly that it hasn’t really sunk in yet. Many of her party colleagues will be unhappy. The Social Democrats’ allies are against membership. Best to talk about it as little as possible.

“The Social Democrats must address Sweden’s most urgent social problem, namely, the extraordinary levels of violence that criminal gangs have come to inflict on each other (and anyone unlucky enough to get in the way). But the ruling party will know that they are vulnerable here. The right-wing opposition will be keen to put law and order at the centre of the campaign.

“The Social Democrats will plan to install the economy and welfare as the main issues that everyone talks about. Sweden has serious economic problems, not least its looming energy shortages, but these problems are probably worse abroad; and the state’s finances are fairly robust. The party suspects that there may be votes in pledging to rein back the role of private companies in the provision of public services.”

Which issue do you think should define the Swedish election?

“All the issues mentioned above are important, of course. But if I could add one to the agenda, it would be that of political responsibility.

“If you ask me (and you accept a big dose of exaggeration), the modern Swedish pathology is that no one takes responsibility for anything. You see this all too clearly in politics, and it’s a problem. Sweden has had a government that has periodically been forced to implement an opposition budget. Who, then, does the voter blame or praise for the consequences of economic policy? And it’s actually worse than that. Ministers have claimed that they have no control over important decisions, including some in relation to national security, and instead defer to civil servants. This sort of shirking reached a nadir during the coronavirus pandemic, of course.

“If the 2022 election could produce a consensus that politicians must take more direct responsibility for policy, and thus make their democratic accountability clearer, I would be content!”

You can read more about Nicholas’ research here, and follow him on Telegram here.

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. Next week’s issue will look into regional politics and what you need to know about that.

What issues do you think should define the September 11th election? Email your thoughts to [email protected] (please state in your email if we’re allowed to share them with your fellow readers in next week’s issue of Sweden Elects, and if you’d like to remain anonymous).

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Swedish PM: Moderate Party’s property tax warnings ‘completely absurd’

Sweden's prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, has yet again denied that her party plans to bring back a property tax, calling the Moderate Party's decision to campaign on the issue 'completely absurd'.

Swedish PM: Moderate Party's property tax warnings 'completely absurd'

In a long interview broadcast on Swedish state radio broadcaster SR, Andersson stressed that her party had no plans to bring back the property tax abolished by the Moderate-led government back in 2008. 

“We are not going to campaign on the back of a property tax, have no plans to do it, and have shown over the last eight years that we are not doing it,” she said. “It is completely absurd that the Moderates are running their campaign about this for the third or fourth time in a row. They were cranking this out in 2014, 2018 and now in 2022, and we have not brought back the property tax.” 

When pushed by the interviewer, however, Andersson refused to absolutely rule out making any changes to Sweden’s system of property taxation. 

“If I start to draw red lines, I will risk creating an even more locked situation after the election,” she said. “But there’s no question over what I believe. If you don’t want to bring back property tax, you should vote for the Social Democrats.” 

The Swedish Trade Union Confederation LO, is in favour of bringing back the property tax, which it describes as “one of the best taxes”, as is the Left Party.

After the interview, Tobias Billström and Elisabeth Svantesson, the Moderate Party’s group leader and financial spokesperson, said that by refusing to rule out bringing back the tax, Andersson had justified their decision to campaign on the issue. 

“Unequivocal message from Magdalena Andersson today in P1 Morgon,” Billström wrote on Twitter. “If the Left Party wants property tax to be reintroduced, it will happen. There are no red lines from S.” 

“Bringing back property tax is on the negotiating table,” Svantesson wrote. “She has no red lines there. Important — but expensive — message for Swedish households.” 

Andersson did, however, say that the Social Democrats want to raise taxes, saying that the party planned to bring in a new tax to fund building back Sweden’s defence capabilities, a so-called beredskapsskatt, or “preparedness tax”. 

“So that this will not end up taking priority over schools, pensions, healthcare and elderly care, we think that those with the highest incomes should be able to pay just a little bit extra towards this,” she said, although she would not go into detail on how “highest incomes” would be defined. 

“But in the economic situation we are in, it’s not the time to raise taxes for ordinary households,” she said.