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”.
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 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”.
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”.