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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Nobel laureate Ernaux warns of ‘ideology of withdrawal’ in Stockholm lecture

Nobel Literature Prize laureate Annie Ernaux warned Wednesday of a dangerous ideology spreading in Europe under the shadow of the war in Ukraine aimed at excluding society's weakest and limiting women's reproductive rights.

Nobel laureate Ernaux warns of 'ideology of withdrawal' in Stockholm lecture

“In Europe, an ideology of withdrawal and closure is on the rise, still concealed by the violence of an imperialist war waged by the dictator at the head of Russia,” Ernaux said in her Nobel lecture in Stockholm ahead of Saturday’s gala prize ceremony.

Ernaux said it was “steadily gaining ground in hitherto democratic countries.”

“Founded on the exclusion of foreigners and immigrants, the abandonment of the economically weak, the surveillance of women’s bodies, this ideology requires a duty of extreme vigilance, for me and all those for whom the value of a human being is always and everywhere the same”, the 82-year-old said.

A feminist icon, Ernaux was awarded this year’s Nobel in October for “the courage and clinical acuity with which she uncovers the roots, estrangements and collective restraints of personal memory”, the jury said.

Her writing is heavily drawn from her personal experiences of class and gender, often casting a critical eye on social structures.

In her lecture, she also touched on the protests in Iran that erupted in mid-September following the death of Mahsa Amini who had been arrested by the Tehran morality police.

Ernaux said she took to writing her personal experiences because “a book can contribute to change” and “enable beings to reimagine themselves”.

“We see it today in the revolt of women who have found the words to disrupt male power and who have risen up, as in Iran, against its most archaic form”.

She noted that growing up as part of the post-war generation, “writers and intellectuals positioned themselves in relation to French politics and became involved in social struggles as a matter of course”.

“In today’s world, where the multiplicity of information sources and the speed at which images flash past condition a form of indifference, to focus on one’s art is a temptation.”

She said she hoped that her Nobel Prize was “a sign of hope for all female writers”, who “have not yet gained legitimacy as producers of written works”.