My grandmother voted on the Social Democrats in her whole life. She was born as one of ten siblings to parents who were 'statare', a type of farm workers who worked under serf-like conditions and primarily got paid in commodities.
Her family of 12 people lived in a 25 square meters cabin where they at night could hear the cockroaches crawl in the kitchen stove. This was Sweden in the 1920s.
As my grandmother often told us grandchildren, she had the Social Democrats to thank for everything. Education, decent wages and working conditions, an apartment of good standard, public health care and pension, to name a few examples.
I think my grandmother really would have liked the new party chairman Håkan Juholt. Unfortunately for him and the Social Democrats, she's dead since 15 years. Many of those who have the party to thank for so much is in fact dead, or are soon about to become. This is the big dilemma for the Social Democrats.
There were many listeners waiting for Juholt's view on strategy when the newly elected party chairman earlier today mounted the podium at the party's extraordinary congress. And in conclusion, the new leader seems to believe in defensive play, with a turn to the left, and classic social democratic issues.
Juholt's distinctive mustache is hailed by supporters.
Photo: Linda Håkansson
In his very abstract policy speech Juholt stressed that the Social Democrats is a social movement. He made the obligatory quotes of former party leaders Olof Palme and Tage Erlander. He praised the public sector and strongly criticized privatisation and private providers in welfare. Furthermore, he complained about tax cuts, private economic interests, and the free flow of financial capital.
There is no doubt that Juholt is the classic social democrat he has been described to be. And his rhetoric certainly must sound better in the ears of the left factions in the party than by those to the right.
Juholt was elected after the usual political intrigues, but what his internal opponents think about him will likely be held a secret for some time. The party, better described as a broad coalition of different political interests, is in dire need of peace and hope after two election defeats and a damaged self-image.
The policy speech in which Juholt painted the picture of a future Sweden once again guided by traditional social-democratic principles was very well received by the party delegates. Juholt could also probably win back some former voters who now either vote for the socialist Left Party or the nationalist Sweden Democrats. But I think it will be very difficult to get back the votes lost to the centre-right or the Greens with this kind of nostalgia.
The party has its strongest support in rural areas, and it is difficult to see Juholt lead a breakthrough in the cities and growth regions. It however remains to see who he chooses to surround himself with, and how the policy of the party really takes shape.
What should be added is that Juholt is a very good speaker who with humour and passion is able to create enthusiasm and fighting spirit among the audience. The government will thus finally get some verbal beating in the Parliament. To bad my grandmother never get to experience this.
Read/watch the speech (in Swedish) here.