Carl Bildt is not your usual Swede: I have yet to see anybody describe the former leader of the Conservative Party (1985-1999) and Prime Minister (1991-1994) and present Foreign Minister as quiet, unassuming and angst-ridden.
On the contrary: Bildt has an ego the size of the Petronas Towers, opinions about lots of things and is not afraid to let the general public know about them. He also has a thing for technology and has been blogging since early 2005.
But is it a problem that a government minister blogs?
The Swedish tabloid Expressen and a former editor of Svenska Dagbladet have criticised Bildt’s blogging with the argument that it blurs the line between personal reflections and government policy. Bertil Thorekull even compared Bildt to the Venezuelan president – and populist – Hugo Chavez. Hardly a comparison, Bildt would approve of.
Bildt’s replies have been fast and furious. If anyone should doubt his love for the gentlemen of the press, these sections should answer that question.
There are several ways of approaching the problem, but the general argument must be that if a government minister makes a statement aimed at the general public, then he or she is also in some way reflecting the government position.
On the other hand, any intelligent observer will know that government positions can be tentative, just as not all statements are meant to lead to the adoption of a policy on a subject.
In the good old days, leading politicians could control some of the reporting through the party-controlled media but since the 1960s we have seen a fight over the control of access to the public arena with the systematic employment of spin doctors as the climax.
Modern technology used in a similar systematic way could also affect the communication strategies as homepages, blogs, podcasting and so on give politicians instruments to circumvent reporting in traditional media.
On the other hand, Lars Nord from Mid-Sweden University made the sensible comment that people who read political blogs tend to read those whose positions they agree with. In a way, political blogs could replace traditional membership journals rather than tv, radio and newspapers.
Finally: Bildt is a controversial person in Swedish politics for a number of reasons – most are related to his work as a consultant and director in the oil industry since he left the post as leader of the Swedish Conservative Party. Attacking Bildt’s blogging could to some degree be a proxy for attacking his business involvements.