Breaking the Mould

It must be Spring. New political parties are sprouting all over. The two latest are Britain’s millionaire-funded ‘Project One Movement’ – a provisional title, presumably: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2018/apr/07/new-political-party-break-mould-westminster-uk-brexit; and, here in Sweden, the ‘Alternativ för Sverige’ party, the name obviously a nod to the ‘Alternative für Deutschland’ group formed in Germany in 2014: see https://alternativforsverige.se. These were both launched, or at least announced, in the last couple of days, although they had been cooking for several months. 

There’s not much else to connect them. Alternativ för Sverige is a far-Right party, even more extreme than the established Sverige Demokraten, which up to now had been the furthest to the Right that anyone had thought liberal Sweden could possibly go. AfS believes that SD has gone soft on immigration, in its anxiety to be accepted as ‘respectable’ by the other parties. Here’s the opening of its Manifesto (in translation):

‘Sweden was previously one of the world’s most successful countries, but today it is a country in crisis. Previously Sweden was admired all over the world. Today, the situation is completely different. In our Nordic neighbours and in the rest of Europe, Sweden is raised as a horror example. The lessons learned are about avoiding Sweden’s mistakes.

‘Sweden 2018 has few successes and many crises. Migration crisis, police crisis, health crisis. The crisis in defence, at school, in the housing market. The crises increase both in strength and scope, but the ruling politicians offer no solutions. In fact, they refuse to acknowledge the existence of the problems. The same politicians who caused the problems can never be part of the solution. They are the problem themselves.’

I have to say, as an Englishman living in Sweden, that all this seems somewhat over-wrought. If the Swedes think they have problems, look at us! More specifically, according to AfS, Sweden’s problems are, of course, immigration (like other European far-Right parties, incidentally, AfS uses Nigel Farage’s notorious ‘Breaking Point’ UKIP poster to illustrate this); and the ‘political correctness’ that doesn’t allow people to point this out. AfS stands not only for a ban on all new asylum seekers, but also for the ‘repatriation’ of those already here. What its political chances are we’ll learn at the time of the next Swedish General Election, due in September this year. (I’ll be here for that, and even possibly entitled to vote, if they accept me as a dual Swedish citizen in time; and before AfS gets me turfed out.)  

The new British party is much more centrist, rather in the style of the old Social Democratic Party (the ‘Gang of Four’) which split the Labour Party in the early 1980s, on the grounds that the latter was moving too far to the Left. The effect of that, of course, was to give a free-er rein to Thatcher than she would have had otherwise. It seems to be banking on defections from the present Labour and Conservative parties – ‘Blairites’ and Tory pro-Europeans; and the rump (if there is one left) of the Liberal-Democrats. The revival of socialism in the Labour Party is obviously the provocation to this, as it was in 1981. Whether it will prove as electorally beneficial to Theresa May as it was to Thatcher, and as disastrous to Labour and the cause of social democracy, remains to be seen.

The common factor joining these otherwise sharply contrasting groups is their stated desire to ‘break the mould’ of conventional or ‘establishment’ politics in their two countries; a purpose shared by a number of other new-ish ‘third’ parties in Europe, including UKIP in Britain until recently, and Trump’s Republican following in America. This clearly indicates a problem of democracy world-wide. Existing political parties are no longer felt to represent even the people who may have voted for them, so there is a fundamental disconnect between nations and their governments. In Britain this is expressed in terms like the ‘Westminster bubble’; in America ‘the swamp’. Each country has a different set of factors feeding into this – particular grievances, pressures, events – but it is interesting, and must be significant, that they are all coming at the same time. It’s not difficult to espy general circumstances which may lay behind them all: ‘globalisation’, in any of its versions; huge world-wide movements of population, leading to immigration ‘crises’; the recent worldwide spread of militant Islam; possibly global warming; overpopulation; ‘imperialisms’ of various kinds; and the frenzied death-throes of late-stage world capitalism. Feeding on these are various ideologies regarded as ‘extreme’, and so to be feared: the very obvious revival of nationalism, giving tribal comfort to the fearful, but also redolent of appalling dangers we have passed through before; and the socialism that the nationalists and the late-stage capitalists fear so much. Presenting it as a world crisis helps us to understand it, but also implies that the only solution is a world-wide one. Yet one of the major platforms of many of these new political parties (the Right-wing ones) is to reject internationalism outright: the UN by Trump, the EU by our British Ukippers, and apparently NATO by AfS. And an international socialist revolution – which in my biassed view would be the best solution – seems hopeless at the present time. Indeed, another thing that AfS and the new British party have in common is their desire to prevent the rise of socialism, though in entirely different ways.

In the meantime there must be ways of reforming the political systems of some of these countries in order to prevent their being controlled by ‘establishments’, and to make them more responsive to changes in genuine public feeling. In Britain and the USA ‘first past the post’ obviously needs to be looked at, having given rise over recent years to a succession of governments that clearly don’t reflect either country’s ‘popular will.’ Both Trump and May are minority rulers, but with almost unfettered power. In Britain this was clearly one of the factors behind the Brexit referendum result, with the electorate given a proportionate say for the first time in history, and using it to express its long bottled-up dissatisfaction with the political establishment generally, rather than (I believe) with the EU. (See https://bernardjporter.com/2016/06/16/is-it-really-about-the-eu/.) To prevent such grotesqueries in the future, our voting system has to be overhauled. (I’ve shown how it could be done while preserving the local accountability of MPs which is the best and most valued feature of our present system: https://bernardjporter.com/2016/02/29/first-past-the-post/.) 

Sweden doesn’t have that problem, which is probably why she’ll be able to weather this aspect of the present world crisis better than us. Her system isn’t perfect; but proportional representation does render her legislature generally reflective of public opinion, and, more importantly, makes it more adaptable to changes in political loyalties and allegiances. If we had had that in Britain, together with Sweden’s less scurrilous and propagandist press (a big factor, this), Corbyn might – just might – have won the last election, and we we could have a decent social-democratic government by now: similar, perhaps, to Sweden’s, whose last fifty years of a sort of socialism has done her no harm at all – whatever Alternativ för Sverige may claim.

(An edited version of this appears on the LRB blogsite.)

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One Response to Breaking the Mould

  1. Sorry about my anonymous comment on the LRB site, Bernard.
    “The crisis in democracy isn’t confined to Europe.”
    It might be more accurate to speak of a crisis in liberal democracy. Democracy without its liberal component seems to be working all too well in the case of Trump and Fidesz. Where anti-immigrant racism might have previously lain dormant, the rightist demagogues have provide a means for ‘the base’ – an appropriately ambiguous term in the case of Trump’s supporters – to achieve political expression and power.

    Liked by 1 person

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