First of all, my apologies for not publishing a bunch of posts about the election campaign here in Sweden during the last weeks. One excuse could be that my TV has broken down (it shuts down automatically after somewhere between 1 and 20 minutes – I really, really have a problem with consumer electronics right now) – which has limited my chances for following what is after all still the the most important channel for political communication.
Another, more relevant, excuse might be that the campaign has lacked vigour which is strange, given that this election in contrast to most elections is competitive: There is a real possibility that the Swedish Social Democrats could lose government power after September 17. But the campaign – at least seen from my perspective – hasn’t been too focused and it has been unengaging. To use football terminology: It has had the intensity of a friendly match between the German national team and some Division 20 amateur side.
And now this. It’s a scandal. It’s a real scandal. It’s huge. It’s nasty. It’s something you would expect in Italy or the U.S, but definitively not in Scandinavia. And it could be lethal for the centre-right’s chances of gaining office if the Social Democrats know how to play their cards.
First, to put this into perspective: This campaign has seen two earlier instances of really foul play. Before the Summer break, it was revealed that a central employee of the Social Democratic HQ had been speading misinformation about the leader of the Conservative Party, Fredrik Reinfeldt. Last week a member of the Christian Democrats’ Youth somehow forgot about the ninth commandment and tried to gain access to the campaign organisation of the Social Democratic Youth.
My impression is that this is unusual behaviour in Scandinavian politics but while the young Christian Democrat could be written off as an over-zealous individual, the transgression of the Social Democratic campaign worker did cast a bad light over the Social Democratic campaign strategy. He was quite simply too close to the central officers of the party.
But let us go back to Sunday. The Conservative leader, Fredrik Reinfeldt, was due to appear in an hour-long interview on Swedish television in the evening when the Social Democrats broke the news that it had reported several instances of unauthorised access to the party’s intranet to the Police.
The timing did initially raise suspicions of yet another campaign trick – it was just too close to Mr. Reinfeldt’s TV appearance to be a coincidence – but as it turned out, the Social Democrats were right: Leading members of the Liberal Party’s youth organisation had acquired passwords to the Social Democratic intranet and over a periods of some months they had used them to log on and access informations about the party’s internal affairs and campaign strategy.
The leader of the Liberal Party, Lars Leijonborg – who generally has the appearance of a nonconformist layman preacher – had no other choice but to apologise publicly to the Social Democrats and declare that his party hadn’t taken advantage of the information.
If we look at it in analytical terms, we are dealing with a valence issue, not a position issue: No party in its right mind would advocate spying as a legitimate part of political competition. The problem for the Social Democrats has been that the party has been hit by a number of stories about questionable – though not neccessarily immoral or illegal – behaviour. On the issue of personal morality and abuse of power, the centre-right has been on a winning streak and this scandal really comes as a gift to the Social Democrats.
Second, among the four centre-right parties the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party are the two parties that are most acceptable to Social Democratic voters. Again, it is potentially good news for the Social Democrats that the Liberals have been messed up in this kind of scandal. Potential party changers could be convinced to either stay with the Social Democrats or a least stay at home in disgust with the political process.
Of cause, this is where this scandal could be dangerous for the Swedish political system. We have seen a long-term trend towards lower trust in politicians in Sweden. Compared to other European countries, it’s not a worrying situation yet but it could trigger political apathy among voters leading to further decline in turn-out or perhaps even significant support for a protest party.
And how about the real world? Believe it or not, but the true extent of youth unemployment is a hotly contested issue.
This list of links is far from complete but may give an impression of the coverage:
Folkpartiet: Kompletterande information från folkpartiets undersökning av uppgifter om otillbörlig inloggning i socialdemokraternas datanätverk (Press release ny the Liberal Party), The Social Democratic Party’s notification to the police (in Swedish as published by Swedish Radio, pdf-format), DN: Toppkandidat för fp pekas ut i datahärvan, DN: Flera s-namn knäcktes av fp, SvD: Fp-topp indragen i spionskandalen, SvD: “S har intressant timing”, SvD: LUF-härva växer, SR: Skandalen kring fp:s dataintrång växer