December 1998


Notes on the first 100 days of the new Swedish government

Pressures to continue the SDP's shift to the right remain strong.



A Fairly Agreeable
Marriage of Convenience

DURING THE THREE MONTHS since the national election in September, the minority government of Göran Persson appears to have developed a fairly agreeable marriage of political convenience with the Left and Green parties (see Election Results). Social Democrats continue to hold all ministerial posts, but the government is dependent on the support of the Left and the Greens to avoid a no-confidence vote in the Riksdag, the Swedish parliament.

Initial attempts by the Social Democratic Party's neo-liberal wing to dismiss the obvious import of the election have been rejected, at least for the time being. But the pressure to continue the party's shift to the right, both from within and without, remains strong. That pressure derives further strength from the wilful ignorance that prominent Social Democrats have demonstrated in their interpretations of the party's disastrous showing in the election. In those limited circles, the most common explanation is that it was due to a failure of communication: "We failed to get our message across." But in fact, all indications are that voters understood very well the party's message, as expressed in its actions and policies of the past decade or so, and decisively rejected them at the polls.

The Left and the Greens have been cautious in placing conditions on their continued co-operation in the Riksdag.

Weakened SDP

It is part of a general syndrome that has been underlined by Carl Tham, who became the previous Minister of Education when Göran Persson reshuffled his cabinet after the election. Referring to the ostensible dominance of Social Democratic parties within the European Union, Tham has pointed out that, "As everyone knows, it is an ideologically weakened social democracy that has been strongly influenced by an intensive ideological offensive by the political right during the past twenty years. Hidden behind Tony Blair's cleverly marketed 'Third Way', for example, is nothing more remarkable than a social democracy which in all important respects has taken giant strides to the right."

England's beaming Tony Blair and his marketing successes are often cited with approval by leading Social Democrats in Sweden. For the moment, however, they are forced to deal with the judgement of the voters in the last election, and have been trying to make the best of it. In return, the Left and the Greens have been cautious in placing conditions on their continued co-operation in the Riksdag-- largely out of awareness that reactionary forces at home and abroad are eagerly awaiting the slightest opportunity to punish the government for surrendering to "irresponsible" demands.

But such opportunities have thus far been few, and the occasional attempts of the centre-right opposition to make political hay of the ongoing alliance between the Social Democrats and its two parliamentary allies have for the most part fallen flat. As 1998 came to a close, the three parties issued a joint declaration of intent to continue their co-operation for the remainder of the government's four-year period.

The three parties have found a common ground in matters of social policy, taxation, defence spending and the environment.


Common ground

Although they have agreed to disagree on such matters as monetary policy and relations with the European Union, the three parties have found a common ground when it comes to social policy, taxation, defence spending and the environment. "Our shared vision," they declare, "is one of an egalitarian 'people's home' with ecologically sustainable economic growth, full employment and secure general welfare, which is driven forward by technological development, modernisation, widespread citizen participation and reduced social divisions."

There is little reason to doubt that the leaders of the three co-operating parties, including Prime Minister Göran Persson, are sincere in their stated goals. The question remains as to how much they will be able to accomplish toward those ends in a world increasingly dominated by the power and neo-liberal ideology of multi-national corporations.

— Al Burke