Jacob Christensen

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Palme 1986

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Just as at the 20th anniversary in 2006, the 25th anniversary has spurred new discussions about the murder of the then Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme and his legacy. Back in 2006, I wrote this post and haven’t really got anything new to add.

Scandinavian readers might want to check these: Ola Nordebo, Ulf Bjereld, Claes Arvidsson as well as a “what if Palme was still alive“-article from DN.

Peter Santesson has considered the various conspiracy theories and amateur investigators as well as the reluctance to consider certain parts of Palme’s life in relation to the murder.

Palme has been the subject of two major biographies: Kjell Östberg’s volumes “I takt med tiden” and “När vinden vände” and Henrik Berggren’s “Underbara dagar framför oss“.

Swedish blogs are listed here.

Written by Jacob Christensen

February 28th, 2011 at 12:31 am

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The Swedish Social Democrats: Another Fine Mess

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A Sunday thought: Does Sweden have an opposition these days? (I’m not the first to ask)

In a technical meaning, yes: There are four parties in the Swedish Riksdag that are not included in the government and therefore, logically, some kind of opposition. But in the substantial meaning of the term, things are more complicated. The Sweden Democrats may not formally be a part of the government’s parliamentary basis, but for a number reasons will hesitate in bringing down the government, the Green Party may do business with the government, the Left Party is not sure if its first task will be to get rid of the party leader and the Social Democrats…

… The once-mighty Social Democrats, who were to Swedish politics what Liverpool F.C. was to English league football during the 1970s and 1980s, are a mere shadow of themselves. Remember that the SocDems only managed to remain Sweden’s largest party by a whisker in last September’s general election, that the party is still some way from presenting an even remotely credible selection of candidates to fill the position as party leader and in terms of policy development …

Oy vey, as they say in Yiddish.

But where exactly did it all go wrong?

One thing which has struck me is that the history of the Social Democrats in many ways mirrors the history of Swedish manufacturing during the 20th century. Consider that Sweden was a bit odd in that the manufacturing and similar centres were spread throughout the country – Swedes talk about a brukskultur and it is worth noting that the combined minds of the Wikipedia haven’t come up with an English or German translation for this. On the one hand, there were a small number of families and corporations controlling mining, forestry and manufacturing, on the other hand they were all over the place. And so were the Social Democrats who unlike any of the other Swedish parties could be found in some force from Karesuando to Smygehuk.

But what happens when you go from a decentralised manufacturing culture to an economy based on services and ICT and with clear nodes in, say, the Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmö and Linköping-Norrköping regions? This is not just a change of geography – even if, or perhaps especially because, the Social Democrats have lost spectacularly in the Stockholm region in 2006 and 2010 – but also a change of mindset. Note that where the Danish Social Democrats have lost support among their core voters (unskilled and skilled workers), the Swedish Social Democrats have lost middle-class voters. The crises in Denmark and Sweden are, in fact, different, even if they may have been triggered by parallel social changes.

At the same time, being almost continuously in power from 1932 to 2006 does something to an organisation. Sweden may not have been a one-party state, but in many ways, the Social Democrats saw the Swedish state as a natural extension of the organisation. As Jenny Madestam has pointed out: The Social Democrats assume that they are selecting a new prime minister, not a new party leader. But what if the Swedish party system is permanently changing into state where to parties winning 30-35% of the vote are shadowed by six parties hovering between 5-10% of the vote? Strategically, the Social Democrats are in a new situation on the electoral and the parliamentary arenas. And as Madestam points out, they need somebody who can be the leader of the opposition.

Organisational change is a fascinating subject but viewed from the outside it still looks as if the Social Democrats still have quite some way to go in their understanding of the changed environment. And the second problem is going from understanding to implementing organisational and policy change.

Written by Jacob Christensen

February 6th, 2011 at 5:23 pm

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Lead Balloons of 2010 II: Mona Sahlin

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Strictly speaking, Mona Sahlin wasn’t a lead balloon of 2010. The Sahlin balloon had already begun leaking visibly sometime during 2008 and to anyone – except people like me – it was obvious during the early part of 2010 that the Swedish Social Democrats had been in serious trouble for some time. In the end, the Social Democrats were extremely lucky to remain the largest party in Sweden after the elections in September 2010.

The post-mortems have pointed to a number of reasons why Sahlin and the Social Democrats after cruising through 2007 and much of 2008 failed completely during the latter part of the 2006-2010 parliamentary term. Sahlin may have been the wrong leader for the Social Democrats but her leadership also revealed a number of challenges to the Social Democrats which the party has to find responses to if it wants to re-emerge as a contender in Swedish politics.

One thing which struck me about the aftermath of the 2006 election was the lack of a serious evaluation of what had led to the Social Democratic defeat in 2006 as well as a real test of the candidates for the position of party leader. Oh, wait … what happened was that there was no competition: Names were mentioned but in the end Mona Sahlin just sort of became party leader.1 And after all, polls showed that the Social Democrats had bounced back – and then some – after September 2006.2

If I look at the various comments following the 2010 collapse in Social Democratic support, several factors are in play and the party needs to address all of them in several ways:

1. Swedish society anno 2010 is nothing like Sweden of the 1960s or the 1930s. The rural-industrial society has given way for an urban service economy. But the Social Democrats are struggling with making inroads into the modern urban society. And even if the challenge from the Sweden Democrats is limited, the SweDems aim for those nostalgic about the old rural-industrial culture.

2. The curious lack of attachment with modern society is reflected in the party organisation which still relies heavily on internal recruitment. Exchanges with outside society is too limited. From the 1930s until the 1990s Social Democracy lived in a sort of symbiosis with the Swedish state but these days the party needs to build its own competences independently of the state.

3. Despite all talk of the Swedish Moderates going to the centre, there are still basic differences between the Moderate and the Social Democratic conception of how a welfare state should be organised. The problem for the Social Democrats is to make their model attractive for white-collar groups – traditional class-based arguments and painting the Moderates as representatives for the upper class no longer work.

4. Strategically, the Social Democrats were stuck between a centrist line and the desire to create a left-wing bloc to compete with the Alliance. One problem was that many voters the Left Party carried the same negative associations as the Sweden Democrats – even if the reasons for avoiding the Left Party were different, the alliance still discouraged potential white-collar and middle-class voters.

5. Sweden was hit by the international financial crisis during 2008 – but unlike what was the case in a number of other countries, the government benefited from the crisis while the Social Democrats lost. Traditionally, the Social Democrats led the centre-right with regard to economic competence. These days, this is no longer so.

6. It is hard to evaluate Sahlin’s efficacy as party leader given the structural and organisational factors. Still, I think that the party would have benefited from an open challenge before the 2007 party conference where candidates were forced to present their long-term plans for the party and their strategies.

7. Much has been said about Sahlin’s lack of analytical powers. Some of this may be due to grudges going back to the 1990s and some to prejudices against women, but Sahlin never really came across as somebody with a vision and a comprehensive set of strategies to implement it in everyday politics. We need a little more than butlers in the metro.

8. In 2010-2011, the party looks set to repeat the mistakes of 2006-2007. Recruiting a new party leader will be an internal process, controlled by the party’s executive committee. The difference is that this time, nobody can name a likely candidate as Sahlin’s successor.

PS: Some links to reports by and about the Social Democrats and their performance in the 2010 election can be found here and here.

My posts on Mona Sahlin can be found under this tag.

  1. See the posts on “Mona Sahlin – Curb your enthusiasm []
  2. If you don’t believe me, just go to the page “Political Reviews” and check my series on “Instant failure” []

Written by Jacob Christensen

December 15th, 2010 at 5:02 pm

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These days anybody can be an armchair expert on terrorism so here are, for what they are worth, my first impressions about the bombings in Stockholm yesterday:

1. Generally, the motive behind suicide attacks has been a grudge against a real or perceived military intervention or occupation of the home country. The point to remember is that suicide bombings are not particularly Muslim or Islamist in nature: The Tamil Tigers made great use of the tactic during the Sri Lankan civil war.

2. That said, we do need some kind of religious factor to explain why a Swedish-Iraqi would mount a suicide attack in Sweden. Afghanistan is the best link here. This also means that intelligence services in all countries which participate in military missions in Afghanistan are or should be looking out for individuals or groups planning similar attacks. Sweden may have been a high-odds country for an attack, but there would still be odds on an attack happening in Sweden.

3. Little is (officially) known about the man, except that he was an Iraqi refugee who came to Sweden in the early 1990s. We do not (yet) know how or where his radicalisation took place or if the attack was an individual action or planned in cooperation with an extremist Islamist group or network in Sweden or elsewhere.

4. Guessing from the reports it looks like that the plan of the bomber was to mount a double attack by blowing up his car and himself either at the same time or with a slight delay. Something (fortunately) appears to have gone completely wrong in the process so the bomber became the only victim. It could be either technical incompetence or the simple fact that he couldn’t go through with his original plan – somewhere I’ve seen research which shows that there are substantial mental blocks which have to be overcome before an individual is able to carry out an attack against other people (including suicide attacks).

5. We should consider a similar type of attack possible in Denmark. But you are still much much more likely to get killed by a lorry in the traffic than by an Islamist suicide bomber.

6. Warning against specific attacks is extremely difficult because of the risk of false positives. Too many warnings will lead to complacency among the public.

7. Generally, nurturing a culture of victimhood is not very constructive. This applies in general as well as to Islamists even if (or especially because) modern Islamism in many ways is built on the premise that the Muslim world is the victim of Western aggression.

8. Despite claims to the opposite, terrorists do not “only have to be lucky once” in order to win. It is true that they have to be lucky in the sense that a number of obstacles have to be overcome and that many attempted attacks are abandoned or thwarted, but the dream of the Big Attack Which Brings Down the Evil Opponent Forever is a chimera because it does not understand the difference between general and specific support for any social or political order. In practice, extremist thinking has been found to be defective in this sense at least since the late 19th century.

Update 2010-12-15: Scandinavian-readers might want to read this post by Andreas Johansson Heinö on the Stockholm bomber and the political implications.

Written by Jacob Christensen

December 12th, 2010 at 10:33 pm

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Nick Aylott on Sahlin

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Nick Aylott, a former colleague from Umeå who is now an associate professor in political science at Södertörn College, has written a comment in the Swedish edition of The Local about the state of the Swedish Social Democracy after Mona Sahlin’s decision to step down as party leader. I hope Nick will forgive me for quoting the central part of his argument at length:

Sahlin’s own period as party chair involved an almost complete lack of leadership. Perhaps this was partly a reaction against her predecessor’s rather heavy-handed style. But it may have more to do with the party’s institutions (defined in a broad sense).

She did manage to pull the Social Democrats’ education policy towards a position that was more in line with most voters’ views. She was also responsible for the decision in 2008 to build a pre-electoral coalition with the two other left-of-centre parties (even if she was forced by her party to include the Left Party in that alliance, which proved electorally catastrophic).

But with regard to other substantive policy areas, especially economics, nothing was achieved – and, even worse, it never became at all clear what Sahlin WANTED to achieve. The manner in which she was selected as leader never involved her having to declare her candidacy, never mind set out a platform for where she wanted to take the party.

As I pretty much agree with Nick, I’ll just point you to his article for the rest.

One comment may be that the Swedish Social Democrats should avoid the curious process of 2006-2007 which involved selecting a leader by default and open the field for competing candidates. (You might want to check my review page for my comments – #1, #2 – from 2007)

Written by Jacob Christensen

November 15th, 2010 at 9:16 pm

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The Game of Ministerial Chairs; 2010 Edition

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Political scientists think this is fascinating, so please allow me to go through the distribution of portfolios in the reshuffled Reinfeldt government. For my take on the 2006 edition, look here.

This time, Fredrik Reinfeldt decided to expand the government from 22 to 24 ministers. This was no doubt done in order to accommodate demands from Moderate ranks for a higher share of the portfolios as well as keeping the coalition partners happy. If the government had kept its previous size, the smaller parties would have had to hand over portfolios to the Moderates.

After the election, the share according to the share of the votes looks as follows

  • Moderates: 30,1% of the vote = 60,9% share of the Alliance vote = 14,62 ministers (24 portfolios), 13,40 ministers (22 portfolios)
  • Liberals: 7,1% of the vote = 14,4% share = 3,45 (24) or 3,16 ministers (22)
  • Centre Party: 6,6% of the vote = 13,4% share = 3,21 (24) or 2,94 ministers (22)
  • Christian Democrats: 5,6% of the vote = 11,3% share = 2,72 (24) or 2,49 ministers (22)

If we then look at the actual cabinet, the distribution was: Moderates – 13, Liberals – 4, Centre Party – 4, Christian Democrats – 3. Strictly speaking, the Moderates gave away two portfolios to the Liberals and the Centre Party respectively, but this was what we normally expect.

There was some changes with regard to departmental boundaries (for instance, the title of Civilminister has been resurrected while the post as minister for higher education went the way of the dodo), but all in all the set-up looks pretty predictable. Especially with the benefit of hindsight. The personnel changes may have included some minor surprises but most of the new ministers look pretty solid and experienced.

Written by Jacob Christensen

October 6th, 2010 at 12:12 am

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Swepsa Gothenburg

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Corridors of Knowledge

Swepsa is the English acronym for Statsvetenskapliga Förbundetm the Swedish Political Science Association, which this year held its annual conference in Gothenburg Thursday and Friday. As it was the 40th jubilee of the Swepsa, it was slightly bigger than usual.

I did not present a paper myself but participated in 1,25 workshops including two oppositions (performed as replacement commentator on a paper in another workshop than “my own”). Nice meeting old colleagues and some newer acquaintances.

The conference had two panels, one on the 2010 election which – truth be told – was a bit disappointing, if only because many of the polsci points has already been made in the 2010 ValU and on Henrik Oscarsson’s and Jesper Strömbäck’s blogs. Marie Demker has posted her introduction to the second panel – the state of Swedish political science. I may get back to both issues later.

Written by Jacob Christensen

October 4th, 2010 at 9:27 pm

Sweden: Developments in Women’s Representation

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After almost five years of eponymous blogging, I’m happy to introduce nothing less than the first guest blogger on this site: Jessika Wide, a former colleague from Umeå who is now a Post Doc at Uppsala University. Jessika’s main line of work concerns the political representation of women and here she writes about the decrease in the share of women MPs at the recent Swedish election and the possible causes.

The results from the dramatic parliamentary election in Sweden are just settled. So far the entry of the Sweden Democrats into the parliament and their position as the holder of the balance of power has attracted most attention. However another striking result is a decrease in female representation, from 47 % to 45 %. The decrease might be seen as marginal, but it is a break in the development. Since Swedish women became eligible in 1921, female representation has constantly increased, election after election. The only exception is the fateful election in 1991.

In 1991 the female representation in parliament decreased from 38 % to 33 %. One reason was the entry of male-dominated populist New Democracy into parliament. Another that the right-wing parties won seats from the left, and the right-wing parties had a lower female representation than the left-wing parties. The decreased female representation was seen as very serious and as a consequence a number of feminists created a network called “the Support Stockings”. The aim of the network was to pressure the political parties to increase the female representation in the election in 1994. Otherwise the network should create a women’s party, which was supported by a majority of the population and seen as a threat by the other parties. The result was that the established parties did increase the share of female candidates, for example the Social Democrats introduced zipped lists.1 In the election 1994 the female representation increased to 40 %, a new world record at that time.

So, what happened in the election this year? Hitherto the decrease in female representation is said to depend solely on the entry of the Sweden Democrats, with 3 female and 17 male MPs. However this is only half the truth. The female representation has also decreased significantly in some other parties. For example if only the Centre Party and the Liberal Party had sustained their share of female MPs from 2006, the female representation in parliament would not have decreased at all this election, despite the entry of the male-dominated Sweden Democrats.

This is the female representation in the political parties after the election (with female representation 2006 in parenthesis) and the number of MPs in total:

The Left Party: 58 % (64 %), 19 MPs

The Social Democrats: 48 % (48 %), 112 MPs

The Green Party: 56 % (42 %), 25 MPs

The Centre: 30 % (41 %), 23 MPs

The Liberal Party: 42 % (54 %), 24 MPs

The Christian Democrats: 37 % (38 %), 19 MPs

The Moderate Party: 48 % (43 %), 107 MPs

The Sweden Democrats: 15 % (–), 20 MPs

Why do we see this decrease in some parties which normally are considered to be positive towards gender equality and with a previous history of a high female representation? It is even more confusing that the Moderates have a gender-balanced representation, despite the fact that issues concerning gender equality and gender quotas are not very prioritized in the party.

The answer is the electoral system. Sweden has a proportional system which is seen as positive towards female representation, but the country is divided into 20 constituencies. The Social Democrats and the Moderates both received about 30 % of the votes and in most constituencies they won several seats each. Meanwhile the smaller parties have won maximally one seat each in the constituencies. This is nothing new, but it is clear that in this election the right-wing parties have gone to the polls with most lists topped by a male candidate. Since only one candidate from each party is elected it makes no difference that the rest of list is zipped. Also the Green Party and the Left Party won maximally one seat each in the constituencies, but in those parties the candidate selection is coordinated on a national basis to achieve a gender-balance also among the top candidates.

What will be the consequence of the decreased female representation? Most likely we will not see a repeat of the reactions in 1991. Most people will probably consider 45 % to be just as good as 47 %. Still it is the second best in the world (after Rwanda). Moreover we already have a feminist party in Sweden today, Feminist Initiative, which only received a modest 0.40 % of the votes in the election. More likely there will be a discussion within the smaller right-wing parties with a decreased female representation, especially in the Centre Party, which had 50 % female MPs in 2002. There might also be a discussion about the gender distribution of the parties’ top candidates on the ballots in the elections. This affects not only the female representation in parliament but also the gender distribution of positions of power at the national as well as the municipal level. For example, men still dominate in the municipal executive boards and among municipal commissioners.

  1. Zipped lists – or “varannan damernas” – means that male and female candidates alternate on the party lists /JC []

Written by Jessika Wide

September 25th, 2010 at 2:11 pm

A Note on Sweden Democrats Voters in the 2010 Election

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We still have to wait some time for the full report on the 2010 election, but SvT’s ValU still gives some interesting pointers to the composition of the SD vote and questions about this segment of the Swedish electorate which may be worth discussing.

First, SD voters deviate from the mainstream in their priorities. If we look at the top-5 issues for all voters according to ValU, they were: 1. Education and schools (54% said this was very important compared to 54% in 2006); 2. Employment (53% – 56% in 2006); 3. Economy at large (53% – 50% in 2006)); 4. Health care (49% – 51% in 2006); 5. Social welfare at large (46% – not in the 2006 questionnaire)

Needless to say, priorities of voters from different parties differed. The top-5 of the Moderates were: 1. Economy at large, 2. Employment, 3. Own economy, 4. Education, 5. Taxation, while the top-5 of the Social Democrats were: 1. Social welfare at large, 2. Health care, 3. Education, 4. Employment, 5. Care for the elderly.1

But now look at the priorities of the Sweden Democrats voters: 1. Refugees and immigration; 2. Law and order; 3. Care for the elderly; 4. Health care; 5. Own economy. The only issue which made it into the general top-5 of all voters was health care, while care for the elderly made it to #7. On the other hand, the other four issues in the top-5 are placed in the top-10 of the priorities of SweDem voters. Curiously, employment is only #10 on the SD list.

SweDem voters also deviate from the (statistical) norm in another way: Only 20% claim to have a high level of trust in politicians against 70% of all voters (actually, overall trust seems to have increased in 2010 compared with earlier elections!). This may reflect a general lack of trust in the political system, but it may just as well reflect the fact that the priorities of SweDem voters deviate from those of other voters and, more importantly, those of mainstream politicians.

One question which has interested commentators is the degree to which SweDem voters are rational. The answer must be that to the degree SweDem voters emphasise immigration as a political problem and SweDem is the party which make similar priorities, the SweDem vote is rational.2

One fact raises some questions, however: The social composition of the SweDem electorate. It is not really surprising to learn that young male workers are overrepresented. It is more surprising to learn that unemployed and people receiving sickness benefits are relatively more likely to vote SweDem – I would have expected employment to be much higher on the agenda of SweDem voters.

One way of explaining the underrepresentation of employment and overrepresentation of immigration on the SweDem agenda (remember that “own economy” is #5) could be that a section of unemployed and people on sickness benefits see social welfare as a zero-sum game between “Swedes” and “immigrants”: The more money spent on immigrants, the less available for unemployment insurance and sickness benefits. As it is, the Danish People’s Party has successfully used this line of argument when calling for cuts in benefits for immigrants and people with a migrant background.

As anybody who has followed the Danish debate (especially among right-wing politicians and commentators) will know, the focus here has been on the Sweden Democrats revealing the true preferences of the Swedish electorate against the elite conspiracy to keep immigration off the political agenda. It is true that immigration was a major factor motivating the SweDem vote, but a) there may be an element of displacement among some voters (they project welfare problems on immigration) and b) at present, only a minor segment of voters put an emphasis on immigration.

Both the Moderates and the Social Democrats have lost voters to the Sweden Democrats, but all things considered they may not have had much to win by bringing immigration to the top of the political agenda. In this respect, Sweden differs from Denmark.

  1. In case you wonder how education made it to #1, the answer is that the issue has a fairly high priority among most parties while other issues vary. []
  2. For a slightly different way of reaching the same conclusion, see Andreas Johansson Heinö’s blog post here. []

Written by Jacob Christensen

September 23rd, 2010 at 6:34 pm

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Post-Election Round-Up

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Round-up and reflections by my colleague Nick Aylott (apologies for the self-referential link at the end).

Henrik Oscarsson notes that a quirk in the Swedish election system may lead the Alliance to lose the majority it would have won if the system had been more proportional.

Whoops: Forgot these

Gissur Erlingsson argues that the success of the Sweden Democrats was caused not by a change in public opinion (demand) but a change in organisational strategies and capabilities (supply). If you have some kind of institutional access, you might also want to check these (gated) papers by Jens Rydgren: “Radical Right Populism in Sweden: Still a Failure, But for How Long?” (from 2002) and “Is extreme right-wing populism contagious? Explaining the emergence of a new party family” (from 2005).

Written by Jacob Christensen

September 21st, 2010 at 3:05 pm

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