It did not come as a surprise, but at last it happened. Håkan Juholt, the chairman of the Social Democrats, finally resigned and stepped down. His failure to hold a clear and consistent line in a number of questions was what ultimately led to his downfall. It was further accelerated by the fact that the Social Democrats were severely split in different fractions and the fact that Juholt was never accepted by a large proportion of the elite personalities inside the party.
What happens now? Well, to start with, we have a leadership crisis again and with polls that shows some awful results for the party. The Conservatives has surged during the last months, so has the Greens and with the new fresh leader Jonas Sjöstedt in the Leftist party (the former communists), the Social Democrats face yet another challenge.
Something like this has never happened before. It is definitely a political earthquake that has taken place and the challenges for the coming leadership in the Social Democratic party are enormous. Firstly to stop the loss of blood, secondly to unite the party behind a clearer and most consistent line that takes on the major challenges Sweden is facing. Is this doable? It leaves to be seen.
Most debating concerning the Social Democratic implosion now delves around the chairman and speculations concerning the successor to Juholt. But the more interesting question is rather what the new political alternative shall consist of. To figure this out I shall turn to the British Labour Party that has gone through some crisis of similar kind during the last decades.
Will the Social Democratic party turn to the left? If so this is what happened in the Labour Party in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After Labour lost power to the Conservatives in 1979, underwent a period of internal rivalry between the left-wing and the right wing. The former won and the party shifted to the left and took a harder socialist stance. It proposed higher personal taxation, more generous welfare systems and a return to a more interventionist and protectionist industrial policy as well as leaving the EEC. This leftist turn was not successful and ended in a series of depressing election results in the 1980s.
Will the Social Democratic party turn to the right? If so turn was also performed by the Labour Party but in the early and mid 1990s. It was a stance that was a response to the neoliberal policies by the Conservative Thatcher Government in the 1980s. If so this is what happened in the Labour Party in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It reflected the collapse of belief in the economic viability of the state interventionist policies that had been popularized by Keynesian economists and the corresponding rise of popularity for neoliberal policies. Labour sought to accept the dynamics of the market economy and private ownership but also sought to make this dynamism available to new groups. The aim of this “third way” was to support a more egalitarian society through the distribution of skills, capacities, and productive endowments, while rejecting state subsidies to industries and income redistribution as the means to achieve this.
Is there another alternative as well? It might be. The Labour Party is right now redirecting and to some extent implementing new ideas. The core of this “Blue Labour” is to have a more critical view on both the current form of market economy and state centered solutions. The new dimension that is introduced into the Labour Party is similar to Communitarian ideas with a large focus on traditional values like work ethics and patriotism. It argues for a switch to local and democratic community management and provision of welfare services, rather than relying on the dominant centralist programs of social policy that is seen as bureaucratic and lacking in efficiency. The stance is to some extent conservative with an acceptance on the importance of family values and faith and with some criticism to multiculturalism and the mass immigration of low paid workers that will only benefit business at the expense of the working class.
The third of these alternatives is probably the least known and maybe not so applicable in Sweden at a first glance. But adapted to Swedish political culture and traditions I believe that each of these alternatives may be the result. The creative and destructive process of a major crisis may have a surprising outcome.
Henrik Lindberg is researcher at the Ratio Insitute.