Week of politics – a political (s)ummary
Mona Sahlin held a very good speech, focusing on young people and youth issues, but quite a few people seem to have missed the true importance of her speech. This is my take on it.
Since she became party leader in March, the popularity of both her and the party has been increasing steadily. But at some time, the curve has to start flattening, so she needed yet another boost in Almedalen. Her problem is that she cannot really present new political positions, since we are bottom-up political party where members decide (i.e. she will never have a mandate to change the party’s policies only with a small gang of advisers, as Fredrik Reinfeldt did). But at the same time she needed to sound fresh and find a topic that could introduce all the things she wants to represent. A difficult equation.
The solution: A speech about young people, and I think that was a very smart move. To ignore a discussion about children and young people growing up in poverty is much more difficult than ignoring discussion about class and poverty in general. And when you start discussing issues such as a second chance in school, affordable housing, or good working conditions when you are employed for the first time, you will per definition get a good and needed policy discussion about left and right in politics.
During the speech, two members of Social Democratic Youth were allowed onto the stage, and they both held short speeches. During the congress in March, a song sampling a speech by Olof Palme was played during Mona Sahlin’s speech. By allowing two SSU-members to speak, Mona Sahlin showed once again the she is willing to break with rigid traditions and do politics the way she wants to. Moreover, young people always represent the future.
Thus: A speech about young people became the natural entry to a speech about all things that Mona Sahlin wants to stand for: Future, renewal, new traditions in the party where the light must not be on the party leader all the time, a modern center-left party.
The solution to the difficult equation she was facing when entering the stage was in my view smarter than most people have given her credit for. When she had delivered the speech, she had shouldered the prestigious social democratic tradition connected to the week of politics in Almedalen. A tradition initiated by her idol (Olof Palme), continued by her mentor (Ingvar Carlsson), and – for the summer of 2003 – associated with her close friend (and then favorite to become new party leader) Anna Lindh.
Some additional social democratic observations:
The social democratic party had an economic seminar just as always, this time about taxes and tax reform. The seminar was hosted by Pär Nuder (previous Minister of Finance) and during the seminar it was implied that the tax cuts for low earning workers, introduced by Reinfeldt’s government, ought to be accepted by social democrats (I agree). And an idea about changing and limiting the taxes municipalities collect was floated, and all of a sudden social democrats started to disagree. That is great; we need a battle of new ideas in opposition.
After the defeat in the elections of 2006, the social democratic party will change and update its policies in a broad process of consultation with party members and other groups in society. A new party platform will eventually be decided during a congress in 2009, and the party will have loads of meeting in this broad process before then. In Almedalen, during the week of politics, the first of these consultation processes was presented.
The topic is school policies, from kindergarten to complementary education for adults, and I hope that the debate will be open, vivid, and include people outside the party, but also others than the usual crowd already crazy about school issues (i.e. average party members as well as experts inside and outside the party). Now, the social democratic party is inviting people to discuss the policy the party should stand for, and remember that if you don’t participate you don’t have the right to complain.
Last, we have the government. They did not act as an “alliance” in Almedalen, which probably was a big mistake. What we saw was four political parties with bad poll numbers. And the best seminar during the week, organized by Fokus, Synovate Temo and Södertörns Högskola, stated two things. One the hand, the Reinfeldt government has a better situation on paper compared with the right-wing coalition governments of 1976-1982 and 1991-1994 (the economy is better, the parties are more united, the parliamentary situation is more stable).
On the other hand, their situation in the polls is really really bad; center-left winds are blowing in Sweden. The economy might have had its peak, and the Social Democratic Party is always great at adapting and bouncing back.
So, all is good? Not at all, it is still early and we will have three more “Weeks of politics” in Almedalen before the next general election in 2010.