Rule #1 for politicians wanting to become party leader is as follows: Do not make your ambitions known publicly too early. So when Carin Jämtin in an interview with Swedish Radio on Saturday declared that her ambition was to lead the Social Democrats in Stockholm to victory in the 2010 local elections, then, well yes…
Worth noting is that Jämtin came out in favour of a full Swedish membership of the EMU, something which is controversial within the party and politically complicated following the clear rejection of EMU membership in the 2003 referendum.
Back in the old days, the succession in Nordic Social Democratic parties was almost always a clear-cut affair with the designated leader standing in the wings after being picked – or at the very least heavily promoted – by the incumbent party leader, but from the early 1990s onwards, the process have become almost as messy as the selection of a candidate for the office of Federal Chancellor in the SPD.
One particular problem for the Swedish Social Democrats this time is that two parameters are salient in the election: 1) Should be new party leader be a “traditionalist” or a “moderniser”, and 2) should the new party leader be a man or a woman.
If you want a female moderniser, Margot Wallström would be an obvious choice. Wallström also has the advantage of having international experience as an EU commissioner. The only problem is that she has been based in Brussels since 1999 and if she were to become party leader, she would not have a seat in the Swedish parliament and could not engage in direct debate with Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.
I’m pretty sure that some Social Democrats would wish that Sweden had an English-style electoral system which would give the possibility of catapulting Ms. Wallström into parliament by the means of a by-election.
(Ms. Wallström even has a blog!)
If Wallström declines, Carin Jämtin would fit the bill nicely, even if she hasn’t held a major government office. It is worth noting that Ms. Jämtin held on to her seat in parliament even after she was chosen as the leader of the Social Democrats in the Stockholm City Council.
The chairman of the Swedish TUC, Wanja Lundby-Wedin is more difficult to place on the “traditionalist-moderniser” dimension but this could of cause be an advantage as she could appeal to both sides. On the other hand, Ms. Lundby-Wedin just like Wallström has no seat in parliament.
But then, you may want to ask just how important a seat in parliament really is in Sweden. Margot Wallström or Wanja Lundby-Wedin could rely on substitutes for parliamentary debates and concentrate on the party and electoral arenas instead.
How about the men, then? The most obvious names are former Finance Minister Pär Nuder, former Justice Minister Thomas Bodström and former Industry Minister Thomas Östros. All three hold a seat in parliament and would probably be closer to the moderniser pole.
The problem is that both Mr. Nuder and Mr. Östros have the charisma of chartered accountants and while the 44-year old Mr. Bodström still has a boyish charm and hard-liner credentials in Justice policy, he lacks the experience in other, heavier, policy areas which Mr. Nuder and Mr. Östros hold.
This leaves two long-shot candidates: Ulrica Messing who is only 38 but still has 10 years of government experience and – tadaa! – Mona Sahlin who is famous for not becoming leader of the Social Democrats back in 1995-96 after one of the weirdest scandals ever seen in politics.
It has been claimed that trade union leaders manuvered to block the appointment of Ms. Sahlin back in 1995, because she was seen as too much of a moderniser – the “Toblerone affair” was a pretext for her downfall – and if we look solely at her policy track record, she could be considered a safe pair of hands. Her problem is that image is as important as substance in contemporary politics and Mona Sahlin definitively still has to fight an image as a sloppy organiser.