Adlai Stevenson once said, “It is far easier to fight for principles than to live up to them”. It is with this in mind, combined with some observations from the Anglicans (forever burning the path in degeneration), that I would like to suggest the unconventional.
Yesterday’s vote left Sweden in something of a bind, rarely seen in a country of stable bloc politics. The Left gained 40.6% of the vote, whilst the Right (Alliance) gained 40.2. Neither can form a majority because 17.6% of the vote went to the Swedish Democrats – making them the third biggest party (and only a couple points off being the second).
These fresh-faced new upstarts bring a youthful dynamism to a stale political climate of blocs who only seem able to agree on two things: that they have no vision for the future of Sweden and that they must form a cordon sanitaire around the SDs, who are too radical (exciting) and too anti-establishment (more exciting still) to be dealt with (though the Alliance has even fractured on this latter consensus in recent years).
From their privileged position of powerlessness, the SDs have all the benefits so commonly enjoyed by protest groups. They have no track record to be criticised. Their views and policies have never been seen to fail. Their rhetoric is all a voter has to go on and that rhetoric can be proud, carelessly fool hardy and fierce. “It is far easier to fight for principles than to live up to them”.
So where does Sweden go from here?
Some, such as the newspaper Expressen, have advocated for a German-style Grand Coalition between the Social Democrats and the Moderates. However, there are very serious problems with this idea. Firstly, they do not have enough votes between them, meaning such a coalition would need additional partners, further complicating the issue. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, knuckling down on the Third Way centrism which led us to this shit-laden crossroad will surely condemn us in 2022.
In The Power of Nightmares, Adam Curtis eloquently and convincingly explains how, following the end of the Cold War, the “end of history” and the ascension of neoliberalism as the unchallenged order, elites – and their fawning mouthpieces known as our politicians – no longer sought to win our votes with dreams but, rather, sought to intimidate us with nightmares. “Quell your dissatisfaction with us”, they said, “we are keeping the monsters from your door-step”. And so ‘the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must’.
Three decades and the Great Recession later, the dissatisfaction is far past its breaking point. Inequality has transformed from a new phenomenon in Swedish society to a tiresome cliché and, while the economy is perhaps the most prosperous in the world, wages have lagged productivity.
In a country which values tranquil communities and solidarity, the party most fundamental to its history – the Social Democrats – have pushed for austerity measures which splits burdens unequally. Schools and hospitals – the foundations upon which Swedish competitiveness is built – have suffered so that asset prices can be shored up.
Three decades on, we shouldn’t be surprised that, while establishment parties promised more of the same and attempted to fear-monger populations who have less and less to fear, one of the defining traits of VoteLeave, Trump, the SDs is that their messages were positive [http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/brexit/2016/08/19/how-leave-won-twitter-an-analysis-of-7-5m-brexit-related-tweets/].
Betray your pretence of principles further, form an unhappy and goalless coalition, and you will not be asking the SDs to form a coalition with you in 2022, they will be asking you to form one with them. The Moderates already appear to have suffered from the December Agreement, when they conceded power to the Left in 2014.
There are two alternatives. The first is an extreme form of minority government led by the Centre Party. As Nicholas Aylott puts is, ‘When you play the game of thrones in Sweden you don’t win, you form a minority government’ [thelocal.se]. Despite only having around 9% of the vote, they may yet take the premier mantle in a “negative” system where the candidate does not need to show that it has a majority supporting it but merely that it doesn’t have a majority against it. This, and the painstaking legislative negotiations which would have to take place on everything, is an interesting alternative for compromise but also runs the risk of Grand-Coalition-esque legislative stagnation.
There is another alternative.
The city council of Hässleholm (Skåne län), is divided into three factions — a centre-left one with just under half the votes, a centre-right one with a quarter, and the Sweden Democrats with a quarter. Each group used to vote for its own budget, all but guaranteeing the centre-left stayed in power. In 2017, however, the centre-right and Sweden Democrats teamed up to push the centre-left out.
Then it started to go wrong for the SDs. Ulf Erlandsson, the first Sweden Democrat to become deputy chair of a municipal council, was forced to resign almost immediately following various scandals including sharing racist articles on social media. Douglas Roth, the centre-right chair of the council, called the populists “not serious” for their constant linking of everything to immigration. “The problem with them is that if we want to tarmac the road outside, they say we can’t do it because there are immigrants here”. Mr Jonsson, the new SD deputy chair in the city, is frank about the implications of the city’s experiment. “Hässleholm is an example of what we could be — and also what can go wrong if you co-operate with the Sweden Democrats”. [ft.com]
So, this is my suggestion. A darkness imbedded in this society has emerged and is knocking at your door, let it in.
Exclusion gives them the claim to persecution. Exclusion is to stare fixedly out the window, hands over your ears, while they kick down the door and start lighting matches over the kindling of your house. Instead, give them a room. Then give them a spreadsheet of your accounts and investment projects, and watch the wet patches emerge around their groins.
It can be hard for politicians to have faith in their convictions but easier, perhaps, for civil society. We must have faith. Their budget does not add up, many of their economic policies are utterly ruinous – particularly for the base they have so insincerely pandered towards, and they have all the intellectual clout you would expect from a motley crew of skinheads, incels, and inbreeds.
Look at Trump: Since attaining high office, he has brought the worst of American society out of the darkness and into the light. He has shone a beacon upon all that is wrong, personified it, revealed its threat, its corruption, its stupidity, its inadequacy. He has sparked civil movements like America has never seen, provided nitrous gas to the Social Democrats, lost the Republicans Ala-fucking-bama, and, come November, may have lost the House – in a system so gerrymandered it should have been impossible.
“We cannot change anything until we accept it. Condemnation does not liberate, it oppresses”. Like it or not, the SDs have a legitimate fifth of the vote and the anxieties and truths they speak to must be addressed. Of course, Carl Jung was referring to an individual’s inner demons but, I would posit, in inviting the SDs in, we may (as Trump has inadvertently done), not only show them for the feckless brats they are but bring all our ugly trolls out of the dark and forgotten corners of the house.
Of course, it is easy for me to say this knowing full well that, due to the colour of my skin and almost every other aspect of my identity, it is not I who will suffer from SD lay judges or any cretinous policies they may enact. It is not I who will be victimised by the greater confidence given to racists in the street. However, if the German Social Democrats or the British Liberal Democrats (remember them? me neither) can attest to anything, it is that junior coalition partners fair far worse than they succeed – even when they are made up of competent politicians.