Annie Lööf to step down as Centre Party leader

The leader of Sweden's Centre Party has announced that she is stepping down as leader of the party she has led since 2011.

Annie Lööf to step down as Centre Party leader
Centre Party leader Annie Lööf announces her resignation at a press conference on Thursday. Photo: Anders Wiklund / TT

Lööf, whose centre-right party broke from its former allies on the right over their support for the far-right Sweden Democrats, said she would stay on as leader until the party had selected a replacement. 

As she resigned she said she was “standing tall” in the knowledge that she had stuck to her principles, a reference to her party’s refusal to cooperate with the Sweden Democrats even at the cost of supporting the left-wing Social Democrats in government. 

“I have done my part and I know that there are others who are not going to let hate win.” 

She was, she said, “convinced that there are other forces which will push back when the limits of decency are being passed”. 

At the press conference, Lööf said that her decision had been partly influenced by the threats and abusive posts online she has faced since even before leaving the right-wing Alliance and giving her party’s support to the Social Democrats.

On July 6th, she was the intended target of a suspected terror attack at the Almedalen political festival. The perpetrator, Theodor Engström, who had a history in the extreme-right Nordic Resistance Movement, instead fatally stabbed a senior Swedish psychiatrist. 

She said that on Sunday, after the campaign was over she felt “a relief not to have come to any harm,” and a “relief at being able to fetch my daughters from daycare.”

“Of course, that hateful rhetoric has affected me.” 

But this was not the only reason for her decision, she said. 

“I came to the final conclusion yesterday, but this is a decision which I have slowly been coming to. If I was really honest, I would say I felt throughout this last mandate period that this would be the last election campaign I would lead.” 

 “After this decision,” she added, “my children are going to get more time with their mother.” 

In the election, the Centre Party’s share of the vote dropped from 8.6 percent to 6.7 percent, something Lööf said, “I am not satisfied with, absolutely not”.

“But it’s natural,” she said, “that you be judged on the basis of your most recent election result.” 

As for the party’s poor performance in the countryside, its main voting base when it was Sweden’s farmer’s party, she blamed “populist solutions that are impossible to implement”, such as the plan to cut diesel tax by 9 to 12 kronor, which she said had “lured lots and lots of people”. 

The Centre Party will now call an extraordinary party meeting to choose a new leader.  

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Sweden’s tradition of giving gifts to send off departing party leaders

A spa day for two, a science experiment kit, a promise of home-made pizza, a book on nationalism, and another on Stockholm walks. Sweden's party leaders on Wednesday engaged in the age-old tradition of seeing off departing colleagues with gifts.

Sweden's tradition of giving gifts to send off departing party leaders

After 11 years in the job, Centre Party leader Annie Lööf was given a moving farewell at her last party leader debate in the Riksdag, with kind words coming from colleagues you might have assumed were personal as well as political adversaries.

“Person in power to person in power, elected leader to elected leader, woman to woman, but perhaps most of all mother to mother, I hope from the very centre of my heart that when all the dust has settled that it was worth it, that we together made the road a little wider for our daughters,” Christian Democrat leader Ebba Busch said, close to tears. 

Her party gave Lööf a donation to the charity Min Stora Dag, while she, herself, promised a dinner together where the two could “eat well and drink well”. 

Centre Party leader Annie Lööf and Christian Democrat leader Ebba Busch. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Lööf’s response was surprisingly warm, a reminder perhaps of the two years when the two were on the same side of bloc politics, thanking Busch for her friendship. 

“I am extremely thankful for the friendship, Ebba, for the fact that we were both able to talk together about the demands of politics, about sleepless nights, about periods of vabbing as the parents of small children,” she said.  

Busch, she said, was someone who always came up with “that little bit extra”, a new mobile phone case, sticky buns for fika, adding that she had even arranged a baby shower for her, with a cake made of nappies. 

According to Carina Larsson, the head of press at The Riksdag Administration, the tradition of giving departing leaders presents goes back some time. 

“It has been a tradition for at least the last ten years to have a farewell ceremony when a party leader goes,” she told The Local. 

Outgoing Prime Minister, Stefan Löfven, for instance, was gifted a spicy chilli sausage by Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson, which came from a small town in Blekinge, Åkesson’s home county. 

The ceremony is little different to those held at any other workplace when an employee moves on, with small, witty gifts, and short, heartfelt speeches.

On one hand, it’s quite striking the extent to which politicians you are used to seeing at loggerheads either have, or at least pretend to have, friendly private relationships. 

The difference of course is that politics never stops, so the gifts chosen are all designed to make a certain point or give a certain impression. 

Left Party leader Nooshi Dadgostar, whose party Lööf refused to negotiate with, gave her a spa day in Nacka. One the face of it, it’s a suitable present for two women, but Dadgostar’s speech had a slight sting in its tail. 

“I want to give you a spa day in Nacka, for two, and you don’t need to take me with you. I hope you manage to get a bit of a rest,” she said. 

“I think you decide that you and I should go,” Lööf smiled back. “I look forward to having a spa with you.”

The present that came from Jimmie Åkesson, Lööf’s longstanding opponent, was a book, Nationalstaten, or The Nation State, by Björn Östbring, sent a fairly clumsy message.

The Sweden Democrat gift to Annie Lööf was the book Nationalstaten by Björn Östbring. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

The book argues that the culture war between liberals and nationalists can be overcome by looking back to the long-forgotten ideology of Liberal Nationalism. 

Lööf thanked Åkesson for the “conversations and laughter we have had”. 

“He can formulate a pretty punchy SMS, and I haven’t always been angry with him,” she joked.  

The point where Lööf came closest to a cutting comment, though, was when Johan Pehrson, the Liberal Party leader who agreed to the rather illiberal Tidö Agreement, offered her home-made pizza, and pointed out that while he had been party leader for eleven months, she had managed eleven years. 

“My God it’s tough, all the demands and expectations, everything you need to give up,” he said. 

“My advice,” Lööf responded, “is to be yourself”.

Moderate leader Ulf Kristersson gave Lööf a children’s experiment kit from Alga “as a symbol of faith in progress”. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

Magdalena Andersson, the leader of the Social Democrats, offered her a book called Barnfamiljernas friluftsguide, a guide to outdoor life around Stockholm for families, and also promised to show her own “favourite place for a barbecue, so long as you don’t tell anyone”. 

Annie Lööf and Magdalena Andersson. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT