On the grassy peninsular behind the old castle in the town of Sölvesborg, the Sweden Democrats’ leader Jimmie Åkesson is quite literally on home turf. Behind the stage, his son and a friend take turns at climbing the birches in the grove by the Sölvesborgsviken inlet, while in front of him, the party faithful are gathered on benches and sitting on the grass, clad in Sweden Democrat T-shirts and caps to ward off the searing summer sun.
If Åkesson has mellowed, as several commentators have written over the last few months, it’s not on display in the speech he makes today:
“It simply won’t work to let the seven parties which have destroyed our country for decades, botched it up for Sweden, smashed our little, shared place in the world into pieces,” he declares, calling Sweden “our beloved, safe home on earth”.
“It won’t work to allow these same parties to try and clear up the absolute tragedy which they, themselves, have created. Because they will never manage.”
The Moderates’ leader Ulf Kristersson has in recent speeches alarmed more liberal members of his party by time and again crediting the Sweden Democrats for putting Sweden’s immigration problems on the agenda at a time when talking about them was almost taboo.
But Åkesson is not willing to return the credit.
- ‘Immigrants and Swedes need the same things’
- ‘We can’t be focused on the environment as a niche issue’
- Ebba Busch has no regrets over Easter riot comments
- Sweden ‘has been ruled on the Centre Party’s programme’
“We have a lot of migrants that contribute to Swedish society and the Swedish economy. They work and they pay taxes, and that’s fine,” he said.
“They are not the problem. The problem is more those 700,000 immigrants that cannot support themselves and that are in need of social benefits and that kind of support. That costs a lot of money,” he said. “That is the problem, not the good immigrants that are working and contribute to society.”
He reversed his party’s past position, and told The Local that he did not think that Sweden should return to the old system whereby unions got to work together with government and employers to determine which skills faced sufficient shortages to justify importing workers.
“We don’t want the unions to have the power to decide who gets permits to come to Sweden,” Åkesson said. “But we want society, in some way, [to] have to see if it’s needed or not, and exactly how we’re going to do that I cannot say at this time.”
He said he believed “a better solution” than a return of union involvement would be something similar to proposals made by the Christian Democrat and Moderate parties, who want to increase the minimum salary that those seeking work permits are being offered.
When it came to the formation of the next government, he said that the low level of trust he has for his potential partners in the Moderate, Christian Democrat and particularly in the Liberal Party, means that he would rather that the Sweden Democrats join the ruling coalition, but he said his priority is getting policies enacted.
“If I could decide on my own, of course, we would want to be in government, but the thing you should always put at the centre is what policies will they make and what decisions they will take,” he said.
“We have a lot of proposals that we think are important, and we expect that if we support the government, they will make us happy and use our proposals to a degree that we can accept. I think that’s that’s the most important thing, not how the government looks, and what parties are in it.”
Parties on both sides of the political divide are now competing hard to seem tough on immigration and crime, moving squarely onto the Sweden Democrats’ old territory. When the Social Democrats in Denmark took a critical, populist approach to immigration a few years ago, the shift was followed by a dramatic fall in support for the country’s equivalent of the Sweden Democrats, the Danish People’s Party, which is now on just two percent of the vote, down from over 20 percent.
But Åkesson said that although he had initially been worried that other parties would win back some of their voters, so far his party did not seem to be facing the same sort of trajectory.
“I had this feeling, especially when the Moderates came closer to us on immigration, that they would take more of our voters. But we haven’t seen that. We’re quite stable in the polls, and it looks like we will stay quite stable, so I’m not that worried.
“And I think if we now get the chance to be part of the government or support the government, that will also show voters that they need us for things to happen. We are needed. So I think that’s that’s positive.”
Asked whether he would be upset if the party went backwards in its share of the vote on September 11th, winning less than the 17.5 percent it won in 2018, Åkesson was sanguine.
“If we get a new government, that’s not that important. Our own numbers are not that important in the team. But of course, it would be a different situation, because we’ve never, ever lost an election in that way. But the most important thing is that we get a new government, and that’s our focus.”