I haven’t written anything about Swedish politics (save a comment about local politics here in Umeå and why I generally don’t write about that) for a while for two reasons: A) Not that much has happened – the government is still trailing seriously in opinion polls – and B) whenever I wanted to finally do a post about the changes in unemployment and sickness benefits, something happened in Denmark (like, say, a government reshuffle or an election).
But tonight we head for Stockholm where Kristina Axén Olin, leader of the Conservative group in the city council since 2002 and mayor (or to be precise Finansborgarråd, Swedish local government does not operate with the position of mayor) since 2006, announced that she would be on sick leave for a month due to exhaustion.
One irony here is that the Social Insurance Agency earlier this year floated plans which meant that people with exhaustion, or burn-out syndrome, as a general condition no longer would qualify for sickness benefits.
On the other hand, Axén Olin’s press release (which I haven’t been able to find on either the homepage of the City of Stockholm or the local branch of the Conservative Party) seem to indicate that her problems go a little deeper than that. This is also the second time in a year, Axén Olin’s problems become public.
Axén Olin isn’t the first politician in Sweden or elsewhere to be overcome by the pressures of day-to-day politics: The former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, who came down with a depression during his first term in office, is probably the most famous case. The German Chancellor Willy Brandt was also noted for suffering regular attacks of exhaustion or even depression while in office and occasionally withdrawing from outside contacts.
Politically, the problem is whether Axén Olin will be able to make a full come-back and be a convincing leader for the Conservatives in the City Council. Stockholm politics are notoriously complex and has its sinister aspects – her Social Democratic predecessor as mayor Annika Billström was systematically undermined by her own party during her term in office and Stockholm has a history of changing majorities at every election.
Stockholm has in many ways been a Conservative showcase when it comes to introducing administrative reforms including privatisations of public services and selling out council housing both during the 1998-2002 term and the present term, so having a steady leadership in the City of Stockholm would be a priority to the national party and the government.