The political polemic have become rather out of character lately. The leader of the big blue collar union LO is criticised for being a sympathiser with greedy Chief Executives. At the same time as representatives of the once so business friendly Moderate Party continuously have railed at the business world.
Wanja Lundby-Wedin is the President of LO, the central organisation for 15 affiliated unions, a trade union confederation with about 1 700 000 members, strongly allied with the Social Democrats.
Since the middle of the 1990s central agreements on the Swedish labour market have become fewer and the importance of LO as a real force behind employment contracts thus have declined. Instead is it now first and foremost the formation of opinion that is the most important role that LO has to play.
Something that Wanja Lundby-Wedin has focused on, since she became the president of LO in 2000, is the high wages, bonuses and charitable pension agreements that many chief executives have been able to acquire. By pin-pointing to this greed of big business she has been able to put forward the opinions of the labour movement about social justice and equality.
The bonus setback
In the light of this is it of course a hard setback when it is clear that she herself, as a member of the board in no less than 26 board of directors, has granted big bonuses, high wages and grand pension agreements to a number of chief executives.
The setback does not seem to be smaller when you regard that accusing the government for granting big bonuses to chief executives was the current main strategy for the Social Democrats.
Three weeks ago, when the Minister for Finance Anders Borg seemed to be vulnerable for these accusations, the Social Democrats demanded a parliamentary debate.
When this debate was held yesterday, the before now strongest critiques from the Social Democrats were missing. Instead it was MPs from the centre-right alliance that was able to make the best sidewinders in the debate, thanks to Wanja Lundby-Wedin.
Lundby-Wedin is now dethroned as a critic of big business. But she has not, so far, chosen to resign. This despite sever critique from ordinary union members and social democrats. Instead she has tried to dodge such demands.
That the labour movement (the blue collar unions and the social democrats) has been hurt by the “Wanja-gate” is clear. What could be seen as an attempt to change focus the leader of the Social Democrats, Mona Sahlin, and her economic spokesperson, Thomas Östros, today published an op-ed in newspaper Dagens Nyheter where they speak out for raised taxes.
It could also be seen as an attempt to ease the feelings of their typical voters.
This because all analysis of the opinion polls show that the social democrats have lost many voters bigger cities, while still being strong in the rural areas. With political alliances both to the left and right side of the spectrum those who want to win the next election in 2010 needs to reach the voters in the centre, many of them lives in the bigger cities.
So when the social democrats propose higher taxes, the middle class in Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö most likely feels the need to lean to the governing centre-right alliance.
The Social Democrats thus turns inwards to lick their wounds. Mona Sahlin, seen by many traditionalists in the party as to close to the political middle, thus reaches out to the left wing of the party.
But since the party now isn’t standing strong by itself anymore, but instead has formed a political alliance with the Greens and the Left Party, moves like these become a little bit complicated. Today the Greens have criticised the Social Democrats for wanting to raise the wrong types of taxes, and the Left Party also came with critique since they think that more taxes needs to be raised much more.
To sell your soul and alienate supporters
On the other hand does the largest governing party, the Moderates, seem to be travelling a little bit too far towards the middle. At least are now some voices among right wing pundits raised with irritation towards some statements of Moderate Party leaders.
After a devastating defeat in the 2002 election, the Moderate Party leaders resigned and the new leadership was given a blank cheque for ideological renewal. The former renegade Fredrik Reinfeldt became the new party leader and started the transformation from what was seen as an anti-tax, anti-welfare and too market liberal party into a centre policy, welfare-hugging and more compassionate Moderates.
The transformation was successful and, together with the formation of the centre-right alliance, lead to the winning of the 2006 election. The success has, despite many moments of irritation among party right wingers, positioned Reinfeldt and his ideologue, Minister for Finance Anders Borg, beyond the reach of criticism.
But now might the party leadership have a little bit too far.
That the Minister for Finance during the last couple of months has been a strong critic of banks has made him popular among the public. And his brawl with big business over excessive bonuses and pension agreements has also bens well-liked and accepted also among many on the right.
But now some right wing pundits and many market liberals seem to become a little bit worried that the party leadership might have getting some sort of hubris.
It might be an example of good Machiavellian strategy to take distance from special interests and instead seem to be the defender of a common interest. But when Anders Borg in an interview on public radio called the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise “a special interest for very rich people”, it could just as well been a statement by a social democratic
That Borg is such a strong defender of the strict labour regulation is neither seen with gratitude among market liberals.
Right wing columnist in newspaper Svenska Dagbladet, Lars Adaktusson, writes that the Moderate Party risks “gaining the whole world but losing its own soul”.
In an op-ed written yesterday in the same newspaper, Moderate Party Secretary Per Schlingmann attacks the whole business world for being greedy and lacking social responsibility. It might have been accepted by most right wingers if he had been pin-pointing big business, but among many struggling small business owners this was a stab in the hart from someone they saw as a political ally.
Is this an example of how hard it has become to orientate yourself as a political party in this, for Sweden, new political landscape of two rather strong political blocs? Certainly, but under the surface also another development could be traced: what might be the beginning of the end of the Swedish model.
It has become a problem to have a political base in a special interest. For how long will the Social Democrats be able to walk side by side with the blue collar unions, before the legitimism of that relation becomes totally eroded? And its rather clear that the business world, both small and big business, no longer can trust on a right leaning government to be a reliable partner.
And then you have the corporative structure of business and unions, working together. Something that will become more and more difficult in an era of globalisation and adaptation to EU. This also shows in the actions and strategies among the political parties.