The end of lagom-ness?

Sweden voted, including me. Some are shocked by the 17.5% for the Sverigedemokraterna, the former Nazi party turned national-socio-conservative, others relieved it were only 18%. But, under the line, little has changed. Some explanatory graphics and a utopian idea.

Like all elections these days, the Swedish was dominated by the (im)migration question. Sweden has been and probably still is the most welcoming of all countries in the EU (and the World), but – mainly thanks to the implementation of neoliberal politics by the Alliansen – lost quite a bit of its lagom-ness. Lagom (wp-EN, wp-DE, note the subtle differences; the Swedish Wikipedia page points out that it is a common misconception that the word is a Swedish particularity) is essentially being balanced, average with the most positive connotation one can imagine and probably describes Sweden's ideals like no other word.

And, like any other people, an increasing number of Swedish voters blame their political establishment, in Sweden the long-ruling Socialdemokraterna, the social-democrats, and the immigrants for losing their lagom paradise.

A network depicting difference in the World's happiness (based on poll data from 2015–2017 assembled for the World Happiness Report 2018, see this post). The Swedish came out (still) 9th among the happiest people in the World.

A bit of history

When the SD first escaped the dark-stained brown mud it was born in and entered parliament, it was a shock, but irrelevant. More relevant was that the same year saw the first explicit block election: (lagom-)left, the Rödgröna comprising the Vänsterpartiet [homepage/Wikipedia], the Left Party (V), the Miljöpartiet (MP, left-green [hp/wp]), and the all-dominating social-democrats [hp/wp] vs. the (lagom-)right "blue" Alliansen led by the Moderaterna (M) [hp/wp] – Swedens only straight-neoliberal party – trailing the conservative-green Centerpartiet (C) [hp/wp], the fully liberal Folkpartiet (FP) [hp/wp], and the conservative-religious, Christ-social Kristdemokraterna (KD) [hp/wp], the christian democrats, politically more similar to the Calvinist Dutch parties than the Germany-ruling christian-democratic Union.
The Alliansen broke the dominance of the social-democrats that ruled the realm of lagom-ness, and since then, stands firmly together (despite obvious differences). During its eight-year reign, the Alliansen found it a good idea to follow fashionable European neoliberalism to make Sweden more competitive. This included
  • privatising schools and hospitals — in Sweden this meant the exclusive use of tax money to generate private profits, a business model otherwise only used by big science publishers;
  • reducing taxes, which required cutting down on public spending. 
In short, everything that made Sweden a socialistic paradise that – to any non-born Swedish person including me – could be frighteningly lagom. And most of their changes backfired. Some, like the privatisation of the schools, severely so.

Why you don't want to privatise schools and spend as much public money on general education as possible: proportion of people rejecting evolution and electoral share of parties promoting distrust in tangible facts — a pretty good match. (PS The current U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos (five things you need to know), is a creationist (essentially) and (rich-by-inhertence) billionaire convinced only private schools are worth state-funding: some videos linked here)

Because voters, especially old and/or male ones (personally, I would not object against stripping all males of the right to vote), have strange memories, the electorate did not turn back to the party that guaranteed the paradise they were afraid to lose. Instead they hope to get it back by voting for the straightforward populist "Sweden-Democrats" (SD) [hp/wp] posing as a national-conservative party.

The 2014 election

[See also part 1/4 of Lungt Sverige, La Belle France, Made (drin) in Germany, and Gehst schaißen, Austria! where I give a little insight in the politics of the four countries that made me a proper European.]

The riksdagen as elected in 2014. Outcome was a minority government of social-democrats (S) and (left-)greens (MP). In contrast to e.g. France, Germany and Austria, where one can find substantial overlap between the political programmes of emerging populist-nationalist and conservative-neoliberal parties, the right-wing "Swedish Democrats" (SD) are politically isolated.

In 2014, none of the blocks had a majority, because the SD more than doubled their share. Voting for the SD does no harm, it was (and, still, is) shunned by all other parties. A huge election boon also used by populist-nationalist parties in other EU countries. When the right has a majority, it should use it, so the voter can see what it will lead to.

A minority government of the social-democrats and left-green party (Miljöpartiet, MP) took over, and – as often in Scandinavian countries – worked for a full legislation. The reason for this is that aside from the SD all Swedish parties have a lot of overlap in their policies, it's just their focusses where they differ. Below, an earlier graph I made which tries to place the Swedish parties along the two axes of scheme developed by The Political Compass, which (I think) fits better than their categorisation e.g. on the Wikipedia pages.

Picturing the position of parties in the parliaments of Austria, Germany and France using the 2-axes concept of The Political Compass [links to French presidential election and German national election]. Swedish parties included here: F! – Feministiskt initiativ (libertarian-left); V Vänsterpartiet (left); S – Social-democrats; FP, M – Folkpartiet, changed their name into Liberals (probably lower left of the light-blue bubble), and Nya Moderaterna, Sweden's neoliberals (upper right of the same bubble); C, KD – Centerpartiet and Kristdemokraterna, conservative, but more left-leaning versions of the Bavarian CSU. The Swedish Miljöpartiet is probably among the most leftist-progressive Green parties, and this also applys to the Sverigedemokraterna when compared to their counter-parts in France (Front now Rassemblement national, FN) and Austria (FPÖ) at the opposite site of the political spectrum.

The newly elected riksdagen

Sweden is still the closest thing to paradise I know, but it lost even more of its lagom-ness in the last four years. Consequently, the SD did increase their share again in this year's election for the riksdagen. By a third of a million voters, another 4.7% increase compared to 2014 and 13 more seats.

Comparison of the outgoing and the newly elected riksdagen, the Swedish parliament. The two blocks, both short of a majority as before the election, are indicated.
Effectively, little has changed since four years ago. And the outcome was as expected, and not the worst-expected (which was SD on second or even first place). Sweden remains grid-locked between the equally strong "centre-left" block, the Rödgröna, which in Sweden includes properly left parties, and the "centre-right", the Alliansen, including parties (C, L/FP, KD aspect-wise) that in Germany could be considered "centre-left" as well. No-one wants to play really with the Schmuddelkinder (classic German song), the dirty kids, of the "far-right" SD. Nonetheless, both the social-democrats, as the still largest party, as well as the Alliansen directly raised their voices to form His Majesty's government (Sweden is a constitutional monarchy, with a king that descends from a common man and Marshal de France, fighting for the first French Republic-turned-Empire).

An explanatory side note: I totally agree with the Political Compass' arguments that "far-right" is not a good term to describe right-wing populist parties. Based on their official programme, the best-fit to the SD would not be the German Alternative für Deutschland (too neoliberal and authoritarian) or French FN (too authoritarian), but Seehofer's and Söder's CSU. It promotes a strong state, and not a cold-hearted one (i.e. neither Trump the Trampel nor Crooked Hillary). 
In France, they would end up closest to Wauquiez' Les Republicains (the remaining French conservatives) but not fit with those under Sarkozy.  
Campaigning Wunderwuzzi Kurz (ÖVP), the new chancellor of Austria, would have fit better in the SD's ranks (also visually, see end of post) than the now vice-chancellor Strache from the far-right FPÖ. Although Kurz' actual political home in Sweden would probably be the Moderaterna, same as Jupiter Macron's, who is usually described as "social-liberal", and a pretty contrast to the SD's policies — more and stronger state, keep up high level of welfare (for Swedes) vs. downsizing state (and welfare), embrace globalism and make France more "German" in all aspects. 
Whereas the Brexiteers would fit into the SD, but could clash on fiscal issues, Trump and the Tea Party would find no possible (official) platform in Sweden. To keep up this distinction from other parties coming from an actual fascist/Nazi background (FN, FPÖ), the SD associated itself not with the FN, FPÖ, or the Italian Lega in the European parliament (ENF – Europe of Nations and Freedom) but with the British Tories and the Polish PiS (ECR – European Conservatives and Reformists). 
Which says a lot not only about the SD, but also the ECR and its main two (in future one, thank you, dear Brexiteers) parties. Because despite its official policies the SD works exactly like far-right populistic parties such as FN, FPÖ etc. Taking up and cultivate anti-isms with the usual attacks on the "liberal" mainstream media or fact-based argumentation in general. The few Swedish Trump supporters (and Putin fans, oddly, this often comes together) are hence found among members of the SD.

Difference in indifference 

Let's have a look at how different the Swedish parties are, using some bullet points/priority statements on main topics scored as a absence/presence (binary) matrix to establish pairwise political distances. Distances then visualised using a (meta)phylogenetic network, a neighbour-net splits graph.

The graph lacks the typical economically left-right, socially liberal vs. conservative structure one gets when e.g. scoring the Wahl-O-Mat questionnaire put up for various German elections. One reason is that it is a quick-shot, the bullet points are not comprehensive for the parties' actual policies. Instead they reflect the focus of each party. And Swedish parties, within and beyond the two blocks (Rödgröna, Alliansen), focus on different things. Providing the voters with an actual choice beyond the classic left-right split. Something the graph shows quite well.

Same graph, with the actual political alliances annotated.

It also shows that even parties like the (left-)green party, MP, and the christian-democrats, KD, which disagree profoundly regarding how liberal society should be (libertarian in the classic sense vs. socially conservative) have quite an overlap in other areas. Such as immigration and security politics. Both parties are quided by humanitarian principles and are staunchly pacifist. One, the christian-democrats, out of faith – Christ would have not send back a single refugee asking for help and was a ultra-pacifist; the other, the Miljöpartiet, because they stand for a near-utopian post-modern society that tries to overcome war and any aspect of what is best described with the German term Mißgunst.

Mapping some of the parties' bullet points on the network.

Mißgunst (same prefix as in English: mis-; Gunst literally means 'favour') boils down in current politics that you don't want to give others what you have (wealth, welfare, high standards of living and security etc.) It is the core driver of all anti-something movements. In Sweden, the anti-migrant, Nordic-preference, still conspicuously militaristic SD scaring and stealing away the voters from the two biggest parties. Militaristic because the SD stands out in Sweden being the only party campaining for more co-operation/integration with the NATO – Sweden has always been neutral (officially) – and advocating a heavy increase of the military budget. Utterly useless, since Sweden could not possibly defend itself against any Russian, or future American, see the love spreading with #MAGA, invasion). In addition, very un-Swedish. Sweden always used to be a state actively propagating peace on Earth and supporting benevolent NGOs (while building and selling top-end weaponry).

Voters' Mißgunst is a widespread phenomenon in the happy (see introductory picture) western democraties, a force to reckon. Because we have a lot, we are afraid to lose. In Germany, Mißgunst guides the ground-gaining farther-and-farther right Alternative; in France Le Pen's Rassemblement nationale, but also Melenchon's leftist La France insoumise (notably absent from this year's Huma) cultivate it. In Poland, Hungary, Austria and Italy, entire governments rely on it as their argumentative framework, much as anyone (still) supporting Baby Trump (das Trampel, no offense meant, simply best German word to describe him; offers some possible translations into English). Also Brexit thrived on tapping into Mißgunst. Ironically so, because, the rest of the EU would have much better reasons for envying the British and the deal they got when entering the EU.

And who can really blame somebody living in Sweden for not wanting to share what they have. After all, it's still the closest thing to paradise. Just check out the backgrounds on the SD's election campaign posters.

Source: SD Homepage. Note: this is how Sweden looks like now, despite having not benefitted so far by any SD policy/political contribution.

Utopia: pluralistic democracies with shifting majorities

Taking everything together, the solution is obvious: a minority government keeps on and the parties haggle out legislation (and find a parliamentary majority) on a case-to-case basis. Sticking to what they (claim to) stand for, rather than remaining loyally in their respective blocks. The obvious choice for the government is, as in the forfeited times of lagom-ness, the social-democrats. They are still the largest party (+40% seats compared to the second one) and since they have more overlap with the small parties of both sides.

Sweden would have a probably lagom government fitting the majority of the electorate, and not the loudest and tiniest minority, the SD. A government that probably would not bring paradise back (to do this, one needs extreme changes and parties with utopic policies), but also not cut it further down.

Note: The shifting majorities always involve the social-democrats, because they are by far the largest party. The second-largest party, the Moderaterna (M, cyan), can only form majority by taking the SD (brown) into the boat. This would preclude any participation of the Left (pink) and Green (light green) parties, but also of the Liberals (yellow). It is also questionable whether the Centerpartiet (dark green) and christian-democrats (blue) would be willing to support a neoliberal (M)-national (SD) initiative (a C-KD-M-SD initiviate would have a majority of 11).

There is a good chance that the electorate would punish this, its, will. And as consequence, the one or other of the small parties may not be in the 2022 riksdagen by failing to pass the 4% threshold. This was in fact the main reason why the economically left Centerpartiet and the christian-democrats entered the Alliansen led by the only neoliberal-and-nothing-else party of Sweden, the Moderaterna. And ended up making Sweden less lagom, thus, nourish the SD-populists' tales of bringing back the good-old Sweden by just keeping everyone out. The threshold also ended the short boom of the party I voted for, the Feministiska initiativ. This rather new party fell short in 2014 by 50,000 votes of the 4%-threshold. It was clear, it will not manage to get those, and this year lost five out of six voters.

On the other hand, maybe the voter will understand and cherish the concept of a pluralistic democracy, perfectly fitting a pluralistic, diverse, (post-)modern country like Sweden. In this regard, the 2018 election sent a good signal: the two big ones, S and M, getting more and more similar to each other (see also the network above) and struggling distinguishing themselves from the SD's quite washed-out positions, lost a quarter-million of voters. But their minor block-parties gained in total a third of a million (the left-green Miljopartiet being the only one to lose voters). A small step – 6.5 million voters went to the booths – but a step.

Modern political iconography — go pink and italics. A collage of (neo)liberal German (2017) and national-conservative Swedish (2018) propaganda.

Reality stepping in

Dreams aside, Sweden will probably have another minority but block(ed) government. Or worst-case scenario, a coalition of the two largest parties with a parliamentary majority, but little common ground: do it the German way! Just to give the Wunderwuzzis of the "Swedish Democrats" more to nag about for the 2022 election. And even more imply their minority politics on the rest of the political spectrum as it was the case four years ago (a bit) and this year (a lot). Notable the two biggest parties of either block, the social-democrats and the neoliberals, were very nebulous when it came to the immigration question. Only the small ones of both blocks expressed their strong belief Sweden should not become another Hungary, Austria or Bavaria, but remain welcoming to those who need help.

A little game. Try to pick who's not a member of the SD. The untinkered photo can be found in this SPON commentary (in German) to the Swedish election.

A few links

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