Corbyn in Sweden

The coverage of the British Labour leadership campaign in the Swedish press has been astonishing. I don’t remember a Swedish general election getting this kind of attention in any British newspapers, let alone a mere internal party squabble. The reporting has been full and – so far as I can gather – fair; far more so than in most of our British papers. If you want to read a really informative and unbiased account of the Jeremy Corbyn phenomenon, you should go to Dagens Nyheter. On the other hand, I’m not quite sure the Swedes really understand what’s going on.

That’s because their political culture is so very different from ours. From here (Sweden) British affairs appear exotic, exciting, even a little mad. I’m sure that’s why the press here dwells on them so much; not – surely – because Britain is still important, like the USA, which also, of course, gets a lot of coverage. Swedish politics is protected from the internal party battles that have riven both Labour and the Conservatives recently, by its proportional system of voting, which enables the party situation to be more flexible, and which encourages compromise. There are two left-wing parties here, the Social Democrats and the Vänster (old Left), which would accommodate both of the warring tribes in our Labour party, while still giving each electoral influence in line with their popular support. (See So a row in either party over its ‘soul’, which is what we are going through, is almost unimaginable, or at least would be far less serious and damaging than the one that British Labour is going through now. (Having said that, there is some soul-searching going on in Miljöpartiet, or the Greens. But they’re quite small.)

As well as this, Sweden’s politicians are more boring. Jimmy Åkesson, for example, the leader of the Sweden Democrats, their equivalent of UKIP, is a smartly dressed young man who wouldn’t look out of place behind a bank counter; with nothing like the panache of our Nigel. Swedes can hardly credit that people like Farage and Boris are active and even influential in British politics. Even Jeremy Corbyn must look a little under-dressed. For a nation whose public life lacks colour, I would say, Britain fills the gap; the small, silly parts of their souls that they might like to express themselves, but are too polite to.

Lastly, the Swedes don’t have our press. That’s the feature of our politics and society that shocks them the most: not only the rank sensationalism and near-pornography of the tabloids, which have no real equivalent in Aftonbladet and Expressen, but the blatant propagandizing of all our papers; their use by their proprietors as mouthpieces of one particular ideology or another, usually shockingly unbalanced, and with any regard for the truth being – at best – secondary. Of course Dagens Nyheter and Svenska Dagbladet are directed to certain readerships, mirroring their political preferences to an extent (Svenska Dagbladet is more Conservative), but it’s well-nigh impossible to detect this from their reportage. (Kajsa and I – both of us Lefties – take both of them.) They all – even the tabloids – have what we would regard as ‘high’ Kultur sections. So you can see why we (the Brits) appear so fascinating to the Swedes. It’s our daring, our lack of political correctness, our colourfulness, our sheer awfulness in many ways.

This, however, isn’t why they’re interested in Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn would not seem particularly exotic in a Swedish context. His policies are pretty mainstream, for a Social Democratic country. ‘Momentum’, vilified in the British press as a Trotskyite entryist conspiracy, resembles a score of Swedish grass-roots rörelsen (social movements) in the past, out of which most Swedish parties and policies have grown. This is natural to a country that has accepted ‘bottom-up’ (or if you like, ‘democratic’) politics for generations. The fascination with Corbyn lies not in his politics, but in the fact that he is so omstridd, or viciously beleaguered, in his own country, instead of being calmly accepted and reasonably debated with, as he would be here.

But then here they don’t appear to have the patronizing view of politics we Brits have, or at any rate to the same extent: of a country needing to be run by an ‘establishment’, of whatever party; in other words, by governments set over it, albeit with the people being graciously allowed to choose which particular establishment they want to knuckle under every few years. That of course is one of the things that Jeremy is challenging. If he succeeds, who knows? Britain might become a little bit more like Sweden. Hurrah.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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