|Harold Wilson, UK Labour leader who was congratulated by Erlander on his immense majority of four seats out of 630 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
|Tage Erlander during a TV debate in /sweden in 1967, two years before his retirement (Photo credit:Svenska: Tage Erlander Wikipedia)
My original intention, in writing this piece, was to draw attention to the positive results, for the left, of the Swedish coalition experience; but on closer examination, I find that the political Alliance formed seven years ago by four right-wing parties with the intention of dislodging the Social Democrats from power also holds a lot of lessons for our own Left parties.
Let’s take these two aspects one by one:
First, I was present when, a few months after Harold Wilson’s Labour Party won the 1964 election by a majority of four seats out of a total 630 seats in the House of Commons, the party held its annual general conference, to which came Tage Erlander, the Swedish Prime Minister, to deliver a fraternal address.
Erlander had been Prime Minister of Sweden since 1946 --- 18 straight years --- and the first thing he said was that he wanted to congratulate the British party on their immense electoral victory. He himself, he said, had never had an overall majority.
Yet, by the use of coalition governments with various small parties --- at first the Peasants, later the centre, and still later the Left parties --- he had steered Sweden through its most prosperous years ever, and --- what is even more to the point --- had in the process managed to create within Swedish society a consensus for the left-leaning measures, for creation of the world’s most successful welfare state, for its unique collaborative system of dividing the wealth between labour and capital, which transformed the future of his country, and made it at once one of the most-admired and (in right-wing United States circles) one of the most detested of nations.
This surely is the complete answer to the constant nagging about the probable instability likely to follow the adoption of any form of proportional representation that the right-wing trot out as their major argument for the anti-democratic status quo.
It was not until just before he left office in 1969 that Erlander won a slim majority of seats to hand on to his chosen successor Olof Palme, who was cut down so cruelly by an assassin’s bullet a few years later.
This brings me on to the second Swedish lesson that should be of relevance to our NDP, Liberal and Green parties as they plot how best to overthrow the unrepresentative Harper government.
In 2004, tired of Social Democratic governments that had ruled Sweden for all but nine of the previous 70 years, the four rightist parties --- the Moderates, the Liberal People’s Party, the Centre party and the Christian Democrats --- held a number of meetings aimed at beating the Social Democrats at the 2006 elections.
Their objective was, collectively, to win a majority of seats and form a coalition government. They decided to issue common policy statements and to have a joint election manifesto. (This is one of the hangups of our current anti-Conservative pretenders to the throne, and one that, it seems to me, they have to get over, but quickly.
In addition each individual party retained its own manifesto and policies. The Alliance produced working groups for six policies, foreign policy, education, the welfare state, employment and business (traditionally linked in Social Democratic economic policies), and policing.
This Alliance succeeded in ousting the Social Democrats at the 2006 election and they are still in power, with members of each of their four parties holding positions in their Cabinet. They have done this, even though the Social Democrats are still the leading party in terms of the popular vote, although they have many fewer voters than was normal during their governing years. This is almost an exact replica of the present Canadian House of Commons, except that Sweden is a country with a democratic system of government compared to Canada’s sclerotic first-past-the-post system. It is worth emphasizing this: under a democratic system, a minority of seats cannot be the automatic route to governance.
I am relying on Wikipedia for this information:
An example of this policy cooperation was the budget proposal that the Alliance parties put forward on 2 October 2005. The core proposal was a tax cut of 49 billion Swedish kronor, which is 1.9% of GDP and 3.3% of the total income of the public sector in 2005. Each individual party also proposed its own policies in addition. For example, the Liberal People's Party want to spend 1bn kronor extra on tertiary education and the Christian Democrats want to have more benefits and tax deductions for families.
Can this sort of compromise really be beyond the powers of our NDP and Liberal parties, if they really want to replace the Harper government which, according to what they say, is changing Canada fundamentally in a direction that a majority of Canadians have never given them a mandate to do?
An interesting example of the spirit of compromise is the effort of the four Alliance partners towards the Social Democrats’ expressed opposition to extension of nuclear power in Sweden: the Centre Party opposes nuclear power, the Moderates and Christian Democrats support its continuing operation while the Liberal People's Party want to build more reactors.
Their joint proposal is that no more reactors are to be built but the nuclear phase-out law will be repealed and all forms of energy research will be legal and able to receive state grants (research on nuclear power is currently forbidden in Sweden). An Alliance government would also grant any applications to increase the output of the existing plants, provided that it would be safe to do so. This has been hailed as an historic step, although the Centre Party and the Liberal People's Party have not changed their fundamental positions on nuclear power.
It seems to me that if the three Canadian parties of the centre-left (as they would be called in Sweden) can manage to get together in this way, a definite possibility exists for the establishment, over the coming years, of a humanist, gently left-leaning consensus --- from which Canada is not very far even as we speak --- that would immensely improve the conditions of life for every Canadian far into the future.
We have the resources to pull this off: all we have to decide now is whether we have the will.
This reminds me of one of the most pertinent political comments I ever heard in my career as a journalist which occurred in London after one of the many Commonwealth conferences that discussed how to deal with Ian Smith’s rogue government in Southern Rhodesia as Zimbabwe was then called. The question we reporters put to the Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kwan Yew, as he left for home was, “Should the Commonwealth intervene militarily in Rhodesia?”
Mr. Lee smiled his enigmatic smile and said, “Whose who have the will do not have the means; and those who have the means do not have the will.”