The fatal mistakes of Sweden's David Cameron

Here's what he should teach the British one

20 September 2014

9:00 AM

20 September 2014

9:00 AM

Cool, calm Sweden can still produce a surprise from time to time. Yes, our economic recovery has been the best of any major European country. Yes, our finance minister, the earringed and formerly pony-tailed Anders Borg, is hailed as the best in the world. And yes, our government has somehow managed to cut taxes so the disposable income of the average Swede is 18 per cent higher than before the crash. But when Swedes were asked to pass verdict on all this, in last weekend’s election, we decided to kick out the government.

David Cameron has had another small northerly country to worry about of late, but the fate of his friend Fredrik Reinfeldt, the now-deposed prime minister, ought to alarm him. Both were elected leader of defeated conservative parties in their late thirties, both billed themselves as modernisers. Reinfeldt was even invited to address the 2006 Tory party conference, conveying the news that Tory modernisation worked. ‘We changed,’ he said, ‘and we won.’ The two keep in touch, and have met regularly at Cameron’s ‘Nordic summits’.

In power, both have been market-liberal tax-cutters keen to open up opportunities for free schools. Yet both are caring, green and with an ambition to represent the whole electorate. Reinfeldt’s ‘liberal-conservative’ Moderates styled themselves as the ‘new workers’ party’. Cameron’s Tories are now using the same slogan. Both talk about the importance of reducing the debt/GDP ratio, but the Swedes actually do it — despite the crisis, public debt has been reduced from 44 to 35 per cent. Sweden had become (as the Washington Post put it) ‘the rock star of the recovery’.

Not that the Swedes seemed very impressed: Reinfeldt’s four-party centre-right alliance has been turned out after eight years and a Social Democratic/Green minority government is now being formed. So what is there to learn from Reinfeldt’s failure to win a third term (apart from the fact that no one ever does, except Merkel)?

It was not that Swedish voters were not impressed with the economy. According to a recent European Commission survey, 97 per cent of Swedes were satisfied with their living standards, a number that would please Kim Jong-un. In the big exit poll, voters said that the Moderates handled the nation’s finances better than any other party. But this success, it seems, was self-defeating. The old law, ‘He who has slaked his thirst turns his back on the well’, seems to have applied. The Swedish Conservatives kindly tidied up the fiscal mess — but why keep the cleaners on after the job is done?

Any country that struggles with financial collapse (and lacklustre recovery) would love to recruit an Anders Borg. But Swedes think they are now out of the woods. They want to talk about other things: the climate, immigration, girl power (the feminist party’s share of the vote rose seven-fold) and the quality of public services.

Reinfelt’s big mistake was to look as if he had finished the job. His coalition seemed out of ideas, with no vision for the future. They had, of course, accomplished most of what they set out to achieve in the first, radical four years — and had also lost their majority in parliament. But the general impression was that they had run out of puff.

It’s not as if Sweden no longer has any problems. There is a highly regulated labour market which favours those with jobs at the expense of those seeking them, mainly the young and immigrants (hence the recent Stockholm riots). Sweden’s housing situation is dismal. While free schools are popular, the performance of council-run schools has become a major concern. But instead of coming up with a new, radical agenda, the government sat back and hoped the economic recovery would speak for itself.

Reinfeldt’s main opponents, the Social Democrats, meanwhile started to converge on his positions. Their route back to power was to narrow their differences with the government, pledging not to reverse the major tax cuts. They hired an appealing new leader: Stefan Löfven, a centrist boss from a pro-growth, pro-globalisation industrial trade union.

And Reinfeldt’s response? To try to copy the party that was copying him — out of fear of being seen as the dangerous alternative. Gone was Borg’s tax-cutting agenda, and they even started talking of raising some taxes and spending more on public services, (albeit not quite as much as the Social Democrats). They could just as well have adopted the slogan ‘a little bit less expensive, a little bit worse’.

In a multi-party system, moving to the centre like this always risks losing votes to smaller parties with clearer positions. And so it proved this time. The two main parties lost voters on all sides. Reinfeldt lost this election, but Stefan Löfven did not win it. His Social Democrats were up by a pathetic 0.5 percentage points from the 2010 election — which was the worst result in their history. Even with its two natural allies, it has nothing close to a majority in parliament.  The big parties copied each other, and in so doing weakened each other. Their electoral campaign recalls a battle description in Macbeth: ‘Doubtful it stood, as two spent swimmers that do cling together and choke their art.’

The only real winners were the populist Sweden Democrats, who demand more benefits and fewer immigrants. Their share of the vote doubled to 13 per cent, and they now stand as third–largest force in politics. Their success can partly be explained by the fact that they have done more than their opponents will admit to in shedding the aggressive image they have had since being formed from 1980s neo-Nazi and racist organisations.

Sweden has a big problem with unemployment among immigrants: it’s so difficult to fire people that employers tend to avoid hiring. This tends to disadvantage the young and the recently arrived. The established parties don’t want to know about this problem because the trade unions control the jobs market. The Sweden Democrats’ slogan — ‘we are the only opposition party’ — would have rung true to many voters. To their supporters, distrust of other politicians is just as pressing an issue as immigration.

Once, it was Reinfeldt who won elections by capturing the imagination and daring to be different. Now, he has played it safe — and lost. Last time, Reinfeldt gave Cameron a masterclass in how to win an election. Now he has given a masterclass in how to lose one.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Johan Norberg is the author of In Defence of Global Capitalism and Financial Fiasco.

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Show comments
  • Earthenware

    It’s all very well arguing about economic improvements, but the adage “it’s the economy, stupid” only goes so far. When the very existance of your country in under threat, it tends to take second place in people’s minds.

    Sweden, once the pinnacle of free liberal values and social tolerance is now the rape capital of Europe. The rape figures for Sweden are astounding and people are starting to wake up to this, despite the government’s tight control of the media.

    Everyone knows the reason for Sweden becoming such a dangerous place, but political correctness prevents open discussion. Reinfeldt is clearly pro-immigration and that cost him power. Thirteen percent of the population voted for the Sweden Democrats and that’s going to increase until (and unless) the other parties start to reflect the public mood on immigration.

    • Carl T

      As arguments against the current Swedish immigration policies go, the rape statistics are baloney. In the vast majority of reported rapes, the victim was acquainted with the assailant – we’re largely talking about the sort of situation where two people end up in bed and communication is lacking, often due to alcohol. I’m not denying the relative overrepresentation of immigrants from certain regions in the crime statistics, but you cannot compare the reported rapes between counties that have vastly different laws and cultures.

      If you want to focus on crime, look instead at robberies and other violent street crime. Most young people in urban areas can probably name a few friends who have been robbed, beaten or threatened, and the pattern is all too often that the perpetrator is a young man from the Middle East or North Africa and the victim isn’t. You can use crime statistics to show that things were on average worse when people were poorer 40 years ago, but that’s beside the point. Problems exist here and now and they ought to be dealt with.

      Swedish immigration policy is, it appears, based on the idea that all immigrants are equal, regardless of culture, education, wealth or age. Our politicians therefore expect that if we just teach people Swedish, they will go on to get jobs and become productive members of society. Any differences in employment rates, earnings or crime must be caused by racism or other flaws in the Swedish society. The only difference between immigrants from different backgrounds is their foods, music and holidays, so there will never be any irreconcilable conflicts over things like women’s rights or religious freedom. On top of this, there’s the view that if a pinch of salt is good for your soup, a cup of salt must be even better.

      • Earthenware

        I agree with many of your points, but I beg to differ on the matter of rape in Sweden.

        All the factors that you describe apply in every other country and they also applied in Sweden when it had a low incident rate of rape.

        The correlation is between rape and immigration – unless you are suggesting that drunken sexual frolics are peculiar to Sweden and also that they only started recently.

        • Roger Hudson

          It can be rape if you’ve used up all the condoms and can’t stop your wiki leaking.

        • Roger Hudson

          It can be rape if you’ve used up all the condoms and can’t stop your wiki leaking.

        • Roger Hudson

          It can be rape if you’ve used up all the condoms and can’t stop your wiki leaking.

      • Mike

        And I suppose all the cases of gang rapes over the past 10 years in the UK had nothing to do with mass immigration !

        Considering 95% of these offenses were carried out by men from one specific ethnic group I hardly think its a coincidence. There’s nothing to suggest that Sweden is any different from the UK in this area.

        In the first seven months of 2013, over 1,000 Swedish women reported being raped by Muslim immigrants in the capital city of Stockholm. Over 300 of those were under the age of 15. The number of rapes is up 16% so far this year compared to 2012 numbers. A large proportion of the increase include rape of young pre-teen

        Sounds very familiar to Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford etc. One specific group of men targeting one specific group of vulnerable young girls.

      • Christian

        Let’s cut through the flannel:

        Immigrants are overrepresented in Sweden’s crime statistics. In a study by the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention in 1997-2001, 25% of the almost 1,520,000 offences were found to be committed by people born abroad, while almost 20% were committed by Swedish-born people with a foreign background. In the study, immigrants were found to be four times more likely to be investigated for lethal violence and robbery than ethnic Swedes. In addition, immigrants were three times more likely to be investigated for violent assault, and five times more likely to be investigated for sex crimes. Those from North Africa and Western Asia were overrepresented.

        The report is based on statistics for those “suspected” of offences, but Stina Holmberg of the Council for Crime Prevention said that there was “little difference” in the statistics for those suspected of crimes and those actually convicted.

        “Slightly under 60 percent of the almost 1,520,000 offences … registered during the period covered by the study can be attributed to persons who were born in Sweden to two Swedish-born parents,” it said.[

      • Christian

        Now, if Sweden had no immigrants would there be more crime or less. Would there be more rapes or less?

      • Howienica

        So Muslims are turning Sweden into a nightmare too, huh?

        When is the world going to wake up?

      • sven rau

        “In the vast majority of reported rapes, the victim was acquainted with the assailant”

        a lie.

        “they will go on to get jobs and become productive members of society.”

        a lie.

      • denise smith

        How dare you excuse that evil raping of children and young women you low life apologist.
        Forty years after the Swedish parliament unanimously decided to change the formerly homogenous Sweden into a multicultural country, violent crime has increased by 300% and rapes by 1,472%. Sweden is now number two on the list of rape countries, surpassed only by Lesotho in Southern Africa.
        In an astounding number of cases, the Swedish courts have demonstrated sympathy for the rapists, and have acquitted suspects who have claimed that the girl wanted to have sex with six, seven or eight men.
        The internet radio station Granskning Sverige called the mainstream newspapers Aftonposten and Expressen to ask why they had described the perpetrators as “Swedish men” when they actually were Somalis without Swedish citizenship. They were hugely offended when asked if they felt any responsibility to warn Swedish women to stay away from certain men. One journalist asked why that should be their responsibility.

    • JoBennets

      Swedes are so indoctrinated that they are horrified if immigration or immigrants are criticised. A lobotomised nation that is truly going to hell in a handcart.

      • Howienica

        The question is self evident and goes far beyond Sweden.

        Why is Europe giving a free pass for criminal acts to Muslims?


  • charlemagne

    Sweden Democrats clearly gained power at the expense of the Moderate Party in particular and the whole political establishment in general. The establishment’s unwillingness to take a frank discussion about unchecked, subsidized immigration and it’s consequences on a fairly ‘rural’ and previously homogeneous society. I believe this inhibition is a result of ‘fundamental’ political correctness that has compressed the debate for years and across the political spectrum.

    • jeffersonian

      For those of us who sympathise with the Sweden Democrats, Reinfeldt’s de-throning is particularly delicious. No-one was more poisonous in his illiberal establishment attempt to isolate and undermine the party, refusing to even contemplate that mass immigration of people from alien and even hostile cultures could be a vaild issue for debate. The slogan about ‘being the only opposition party’ in Sweden is sadly true.

      In addition, Reinfeldt has shifted the Moderate Party so far left that you could barely fit a cigarette paper between the major parties. Just like his faux-Conservative colleague in no 10, Reinfeldt has presided over the near annihilation of the Swedish armed forces. And it should be borne in mind that defence of the realm used to be one of the Moderate party’s flagship issues.

      No, Reinfeldt, you won’t be missed.

      • johan berger

        This Norwegian completely agrees that the annihilation of Swedish military might – or drastic reduction in firepower and personnel – is ONE reason why Reinfeldt possibly deserved to lose – AND why his ally at the FP party might just secure a Løfven government from collapse.
        Mr Bjorklund – head of the FP(Folkepartiet) – is extremely concerned about a weak North acting as bait for Mr Putin. The east coast of the Gotland isle is practically ready for occupation due to the digging of an underwater canal made possible by the Russians when a new gas pipe-line made a ‘detour’ via Sweden on its way to Germany!!!

  • global city

    The Left and their slimy agents have stoked the fire for generations now…the blowback is growing. To take it on they will have to declare open war, undoing all the dirty and underhand stuff they have been building since WWII ended.

  • Kennie

    “What Cameron can learn from the defeat of Swedish moderniser Fredrik Reinfeldt”
    Answer: Nothing. Cameron is so arrogant that he thinks he is right (correct) all the time and that anybody who disagrees with him is a ‘fruitcake or loonie’.
    Hence his late showing and begging in Scotland and promissing to give the Scots that which he does not have permission to give.

  • Mike

    After “Its the economy stupid” the next most important issue is “Its mass immigration, stupid” but LibLabCon have failed to see this or act on it and people are moving towards Ukip as a saviour for our culture. If Salmond wins this referendum it will just hasten Camerons demise but if if loses and Cameron hands him bribes galore as he’s been promising, it will still be goodbye Cameron and don’t let the door hit you in the ass.

    The English people have been marginalized by LibLabCon for the past 20 years where they are the racists, bigots & criminals and the gang rapists, feral kids & Jihadists are the victims. We’ve had enough of this appeasement through political correctness whether its pandering to Scottish nationalism or Islam and Cameron will get a very bloody nose very soon.

    • berosos_bubos

      you can go first then.

      • Mike

        I intend to emigrate in the very near future before it becomes a sharia state.

  • Henryhomer

    There isn’t much to compare, the Reinfeldt may have fixed the Swedish economy and cut public debt, but Cameron certainly has not. Cameron & Osborne prolonged the recession by cutting investment at the wrong time and raising VAT and the British people are still getting poorer by the day as wages continue to lag inflation. The only meaningful tax cut has been courtesy of the Lib Dems with their raising of the tax free allowance. If Cameron loses the next election it will be because he is a mediocre PM and an atrocious judge of character.

  • Roberta Crichton

    In a related video we find out that the Obama regime isn’t even capable of building a functional website: http://youtu.be/d4eM8-RafyE

  • Ben

    Sweden Democrats are gaining popularity because Sweden is waking up to the reality of Islam in their country. Even if the Author won’t be honest about that fact.

  • greggf

    “Their (Swedish Democrats) success can partly be explained by the fact that they have done more than their opponents will admit to in shedding the aggressive image they have had since being formed from 1980s neo-Nazi and racist organisations.”

    I love to read such receieved wisdoms that urbane pr**ks like you, Johan, like to preach – more in hope that fact!
    That Austrian corporal didn’t have any trouble persuading the German voter in the early 1930s to support the NSDAP with its overt policies of racism, discrimination and aggression; so much so that they elected him in 1933 to rule, settle scores and deal with an unwanted section of society !
    The word “fatal” might, indeed, be prescient about events to come since it’s merely a matter of time in a background of economic depression before the voter cares little for your polished chiding and elects the dénouement for these current profanities.

  • global city

    His biggest mistake is thaat he didn’t cut the resources and influence of evil sh*ts who forge swedish society in response to this type of basis….


    All white folk are evil imperialsits… this mad and evil assumption runs right through almost all of our institutions in the West

  • Peter Gardner

    There is hope for Cameron. He still hasn’t started cutting the deficit for which job he was elected in the first place. Perhaps this will be his ‘renewal’ policy in 2015.

  • cmason

    Looking for the comments in this article about the Muslim ghettos, street riots, Islamic rapes and general Islamic problems in Sweden.I know a lot of Swedes who are very concerned about Sweden’s liberal attitudes to mass immigration and how the Muslim problem is affecting all walk of life in their country. Maybe they have caught our Labour parties Politically Correct and play the race card attitude, until the whole thing explodes in their delusional face.

  • Jingleballix

    ………and the reason why Sweden generally and Malmo specifically is the rape capital of Europe??

  • El_Sid

    @Johan Norberg
    Sweden has a big problem with unemployment among immigrants: it’s so
    difficult to fire people that employers tend to avoid hiring. This tends
    to disadvantage the young and the recently arrived. The established
    parties don’t want to know about this problem because the trade unions
    control the jobs market.

    Presumably the same was true at the other end of the Oresund bridge, so could not the Swedes move towards more of a flexisecurity model?

  • Nele Schindler

    So basically, if you are a newly arrived immigrant and cannot find a job, it is only natural for you to riot???

  • nielsc

    Reinfeldt and Borgs Sweden has produced a lot of paradoxes which in the end will put Sweden in deep problems. No sane country will give free healthcare (free dentist) to illegal immigrants ( = immigrants who was found to have no legal right to stay in the country) and then ask the ordinary swede to pay; no fair country will put immigrants in the pension age in a better economic situation, than pensioners born in the country. And to implement a limitless immigration policy and in the same time have a strict union based labour policy.

    • Howienica

      Obama is doing it in my country and Americans have now had it up to their eyeteeth with this phony

      The question now is can Obama get Open Borders and create enough new Latin American to U.S. voters to save his hard Left dream before the majority of Americans find out he is rabidly anti-American?

  • rogerfgay

    “the feminist party’s share of the vote rose seven-fold” — and they still didn’t get enough votes for a single seat in parliament.

  • han stal ju en hel bank
    och dessa satt tusentals studenter i gymnasiet i skuld med kronofogden

  • ni kan ju inte alls se det ni som inte är äkta svenskar och äkta skåningar som är dessa som byggt upp Helsingborg