Lars Leijonborg’s demise was swift but unsurprising: If anyone had taken a bet on the party leader most likely to be forced to resign in October 2006, there can be no doubt that politicians, journalists and political scientists alike would have put their money on the Liberal leader.
What went wrong? Of cause the dismal results of the 2006 elections played a role but they were more an effect or symbol of the problems Leijonborg and the Liberal Party faced than the cause of the crisis.
First, the bourgeois coalition in Sweden can be said to consist of one broad (or “catch-all”, if you like) party – the Conservatives – and three parties more or less dedicated to special constituencies.
The Centre Party attracts voters in the rural periphery, the Christian Democrats social conservatives and the Liberal Party … well, who exactly do the Liberals attract?
Will the real Liberals please stand up?
Second, a top-controlled electoral machine can only take you so far in an organisation which rests on more than one liberal tradition.
And a control-culture can be the undoing of a leadership, especially when party officials blatantly overstep the lines of party competition – and the general laws of the society.
Right now, all signs point to Jan Björklund emerging as the next party leader – mostly in the absence of obvious alternatives. Electing Björklund may not be the answer to all of the party’s problems, though. While he is considered a more exciting person than Leijonborg and have made himself the owner of education as a policy issue, he is likely to have weak support among socially libertarian Liberals, and the question remains if he will or can inspire a more open culture in the Liberal party organisation.