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Politics in Sweden: What would a future Social Democrat government do?

Richard Orange
Richard Orange - [email protected]
Politics in Sweden: What would a future Social Democrat government do?
Social Democrat leader Magdalena Andersson gives a Christmas speech in Årsta, Stockholm, on Saturday. Photo: Magnus Lejhall/TT

In her Christmas speech on Saturday, Magdalena Andersson, leader of the opposition Social Democrats, said that tackling gang crime and segregation in Sweden's cities requires "a massive political project". But is her party really willing to be that bold?

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Sweden's Social Democrat opposition is polling at levels unseen for nearly two decades, with their support hovering between 37 percent and 38 percent. 

But this has more to do with discomfort at the government's reliance on the far-right Sweden Democrats that with enthusiasm for anything the Social Democrats have said or done.

The approach over their first year in opposition has been to criticise the government on competence rather than to oppose populist measures on immigration or crime.

When it comes to concrete policy, it has often been difficult to know what the Social Democrats stand for at all. 

That started to change last week, when the party released the first four of the eleven planned reports it claims will form the foundation of a "new direction for Sweden 2030". 

What has been striking, especially in two reports on integration and gang crime, has been the level of the party's self-criticism and their openness to admitting the scale of the problems Sweden is facing. 

T'he Social Democrat MP Lawan Redar presents the findings of her integration report alongside Social Democrat Party Secretary Tobias Baudin. Photo: Henrik Montgomery/TT

Self-criticism on immigration and gang crime

"I think we should be deeply self-critical," the MP Lawen Redar, who led work on a report titled "Increased social cohesion through sharing a common language", told the Aftonbladet newspaper. "The reception [of refugees and other immigrants] has not stood in parity with the social, educational and economic needs. Segregation, which was already widespread, has accelerated." 

Her paper pulled no punches in its description of the scale of immigration Sweden has undergone over the past twenty years, and the of levels segregation that have been allowed to develop in its wake, with the Social Democrats in power for all but nine of those years. 

The report points to areas like Rinkeby, where 92 percent of inhabitants have a foreign background, and to the fact that there were 14 schools in Sweden in 2022, where 100 percent of new pupils had a foreign background, and a further 130 where 80-89.9 percent had a foreign background. 

Some pre-schools, it warned, now have so many pupils and teachers with foreign backgrounds that the many children who attend them are arriving at school without being able to speak proper Swedish. 

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Successive governments, the report concludes, have done far too little to help those who have come to Sweden from countries with failed education systems.  

"Out of fear of stigmatising people, society has not been willing to admit that certain groups need extra support and targeted measures, which has worsened these groups' chances of integrating," the report argues.   

The report on gang crime, titled Criminal gangs will be broken up and reruitment to them stopped, led by the MP Teresa Carvalho, is equally blunt about the Soical Democrats' own failures. 

"The growth of gang crime has a connection to past immigration policy and also to failures in integration policy," the report concludes, adding that this was a link parties on the left had historically been reluctant to consider.   

"One reason that we didn't get this issue right is probably to do with the fact that the Sweden Democrats' arrival in the parliament led to us as a party, in our rush to distance ourselves from SD, to temporarily lack our own analysis."  

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OK, it's your fault, but what are you going to do about it? 

After admitting the scale of the problems and shouldering its part of the blame, however, the party gives little sense of what exactly it plans to do. All it says is that any solution needs to be bold and far-reaching. 

"Society is going to need to take actions we have never previously done at a scale we have never previously seen," Redar's integration report concludes.

"We must do everything in our power to stop the development of crime," the report on gang crime concludes. "The big risk if this doesn't happen is that trust in society withers away. This is in itself a threat to the system".     

The question is whether the historically cautious Social Democrats is capable of being that bold. 

In her year as prime minister, Andersson repeatedly promised to "turn over every stone" to stop gang crime and failed segregation, but without then following up with any really far-reaching new policies.

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How has the Social Democrats' new approach been received? 

The government parties have of course jumped on the Social Democrats' admission that they allowed excessive levels of immigration.

Erik Hellsborn, a Sweden Democrat MP, celebrated the admission on X. Susanna Silfverskiöld, a special advisor to prime minister Ulf Kristersson, responded by posting a video on X of former Justice Minister Morgan Johansson saying "in Sweden, we don't close any borders" at the start of the 2015 refugee crisis. Mauricio Rojas, an MP for the Liberal Party, posted "better late than never".   

The reception from the Swedish media, meanwhile, has been at best lukewarm.

My Rohwedder, political editor of Aftonbladet wrote in her newspaper that by taking so much of the blame for Sweden's problems with crime and failed integration the party had "become its own worst enemy". 

"Self-criticism is a double-edged sword," she wrote, pointing out that the weakness in the exercise was that the party was not presenting its solutions until later. 

"How those will differ from the policies of the Tidö parties remains to be seen," she said. "It's hard to see where in the analysis the Social Democratic focus on class issues is going to sit now that even the Social Democrats have given the big social problems an ethnic dimension." 

Tomas Ramberg, political commentator of the Dagens Nyheter newspaper, wrote that the party's mistake in opposition had so far been not to shift the focus away from crime and immigration and onto its core issues of welfare, jobs, and the economy. 

Gang crime, immigration, energy policy and the culture war, were, he wrote, "a political environment where the Social Democrats are like a fish on dry land". 

At a time when inflation has left so many people struggling, not to have "put the economic crisis in the centre of politics", was, he said, "the Social Democats' big failure". 

As for the new policy programme, with its promises of bold political action the risk, he warned, was that "the elephant gives birth to a mouse".

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BGAndersson 2023/12/05 01:57
Forgive us if we just do not believe S is capable of any solution, being mostly responsible for the situation in the first place.

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