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The Rikstag is the Parliament building in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Rikstag is the Parliament building in Stockholm, Sweden. Source: Neil Howard / Flickr / cropped from original / shared under license CC BY-NC 2.0 / license linked below

ES Sandberg assesses the political landscape ahead of Sweden’s general election on 11 September

Late in August, Sweden’s TV4 channel broadcast the results of an extensive investigation into political-party donations entitled: Partiernas hemliga pengar (The parties’ secret money). Of the eight investigated, five were found to be seeking to circumvent guidelines: the Social Democrats, the Christian Democrats, the Moderates, the Liberals and the Sweden Democrats.

Laws, implemented in 2018, explicitly demand transparency regarding parties receiving donations from individuals over a 24,150 SEK (£1900) threshold. The primary goal of TV4’s Kalla Fakta investigational team was to test each party’s response by employing actors being secretly filmed on camera as business angels meeting party representatives. One of the topics explored was a strategy on how to donate large sums of up to 500,000 SEK (£40,000) without their identities being revealed. The Centre Party, Left Party and Greens declined the investigational journalists’ clandestine approaches.

The accused wily five each had solutions on how to bypass rules, from organising groups of friends to each pool the 24,150 SEK (£1900) to accumulate larger lump sums; the financing of political call centres and finally – the most troubling – syphoning cash through NGOs and opinion leaders. The Liberals were, even so, blasé as to name directly who to go through: Liberalt Maktskifte – a think tank whose motto Sweden needs a liberal powershift is accompanied on their website by smiling emojis and balding, nondescript cartoons of animals. Branding which, to be fair, evokes juvenile activism a little more than serious political pamphleteering.

The Christian Democrats – whose leader, Ebba Busch, recently made headlines suggesting police use live ammo to shoot and injure around 100 rioters in Norrköping during Easter – were the most unrepentant following the revelations. Likewise Sweden’s very own dax-wax fascists, The Sweden Democrats – who recently promised to tear down a semi-built footpath over a motorway to further isolate a working-class migrant community in Stockholm – refused to accept full accountability. As Swedes go to the polls on 11 September, the country faces the real prospect of these parties sitting in a coalition government.

One could be forgiven for assuming that the climate crisis would be front and centre in a country synonymous with Greta Thunberg, but the Greens have trailed throughout 2022 and will be satisfied to make perhaps 7% of the vote. On the contrary, the discussion is fluid on whether to consolidate and expand nuclear-power facilities or invest more in wind farms with a typical right/left axis staking their claims.

Due to the EU’s wholesale electricity market, southern regions of Sweden are being disproportionately affected by price hikes up to 100 times higher than in northern regions. Factor in nuclear-power outages in France paired with the war in Ukraine, and the geopolitics of the bloc’s energy crisis tilts again. Ultimately, protectionism – with all its different euphemisms and cloaks – is entering Swedish political discourse. Furthermore, it plays into the hands of political parties at odds with unelected technocrats in Brussels, and it’s in Skåne (the southern tip of Sweden) where far-right climate sceptics draw on their strongest support.

Unlike the UK, where left politicians have been targeted by Blairism-exhumed, Sweden’s left is greater than the sum of its parts through the Left Party. More Tage Erlander (moderate social democrat) than Olof Palme (once described as a ‘revolutionary reformist’), Nooshi Dadgostar’s party will be aiming for 10% of the vote nationally come election day, while 18 to 20% in Stockholm’s region isn’t a far-fetched outcome. Dadgostar’s direct style of socially conscious policies such as improved pensions, reform of Sweden’s for-profit schooling system, and protection for tenants against market rents, have proved very popular across the country. However, it remains to be seen whether she will be permitted to fill any ministerial roles in a coalition government, due to the not-so-subtle fault lines between the Left and the Centre Party.

With Social Democrats and Moderates taking cues from their respective campaigns on an almost weekly basis, universal priorities such as workers’ rights and the climate are being pushed to the back seat. Society faces another four years at the mercy of shareholders over workers’ living standards. It's also hard to see how all the moving parts which encompass the fight against crime can be sated. Tougher sentences may read well on an election poster, but all of the parties are failing to think laterally or enact truly root-cause strategies.

Despite their relatively large and willing memberships, Sweden’s trade unions could learn a trick or two from the RMT and put principles into practice through sharing information on a more community-based, micro level.

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