Breaking the Mould?

Bernard Porter

It must be spring. New political parties are sprouting all over. Two of the latest are Britain’s millionaire-funded Project One Movement – a provisional title, presumably – and, in Sweden, Alternativ för Sverige, the name obviously a nod to Alternative für Deutschland, formed in Germany in 2014.

Alternativ för Sverige is a far-right party, even more extreme than the Sverigedemokratena (founded in 1988), which up to now had been the furthest to the right that anyone had thought liberal Sweden could go. AfS believes that SD has gone soft on immigration, in its anxiety to be accepted as ‘respectable’ by the other parties. The AfS manifesto begins:

Sweden used to be one of the world's most successful countries, but today it is a country in crisis. Sweden used to be 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 in 2018 has few successes and many crises. A migration crisis, a policing crisis, a health crisis. A crisis in defence, in schools, 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.

And, according to AfS, all Sweden’s problems are caused by immigration (like other European far-right parties, AfS uses Ukip’s notorious ‘Breaking Point’ poster to illustrate this), but ‘political correctness’ doesn’t allow people to point this out. AfS is calling not only for a ban on all new asylum seekers, but also for the ‘repatriation’ of those already here. How much any of this resonates with voters we’ll find out at the general election in September (I’ll be here for that, and possibly entitled to vote, if they accept me as a dual Swedish citizen in time, and AfS doesn't get me turfed out).

The new British party proclaims itself as centrist, rather in the style of the Social Democratic Party which split the Labour Party in the early 1980s, on the grounds that it was moving too far to the left. The effect of that was to give a freer rein to Margaret Thatcher than she would have had otherwise. Project One Movement seems to be banking on defections from Blairites in the Labour Party and pro-European Tories, and possibly the rump (of the rump) of the Liberal Democrats. Brexit is one provocation; the revival of socialism in the Labour Party another, as it was in 1981. Whether the new party 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 avowedly shared by a number of other new-ish ‘third’ parties in Europe that have had success at the polls, including Ukip (if we count the Brexit referendum as an electoral success for Nigel Farage’s party), Emmanuel Macron’s En Marche! in France, Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz in Hungary, and both the Movimento 5 Stelle and the Lega in Italy.

The crisis in democracy isn’t confined to Europe. Seeing it as a global problem should help us to understand it, but also implies that the only solution is a worldwide one. Yet one of the major platforms of many of the new political parties and their authoritarian leaders is to reject internationalism outright. An international socialist revolution – in my view 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.

In the meantime, there must be ways to reform the political systems of some of these countries in order to prevent their being controlled by ‘establishments’ – it’s worth noting that many of the so-called anti-establishment parties are in fact deeply embedded in the established order, Ukip not least – and to make them more responsive to changes in genuine public feeling. In Britain and the United States ‘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 Donald Trump and May are minority rulers with almost unfettered power.

In Britain this was clearly one of the factors behind the Brexit referendum result, with the electorate given a rare proportionate say, and using it to express a long bottled-up dissatisfaction with the political establishment generally, rather than with the EU. To prevent such grotesqueries in the future, our voting system has to be overhauled. (It can be done while preserving the local accountability of MPs, the best and most valued feature of our present system.)

Sweden’s system isn’t perfect, but proportional representation means its legislature is generally reflective of public opinion, and, more important, 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), Jeremy Corbyn might – just might – have won the last election, and we could have a decent social democratic government by now: similar, perhaps, to Sweden’s, where the last fifty years of a sort of socialism have done the country no harm at all, whatever Alternativ för Sverige may claim.


  • 12 April 2018 at 12:04am
    philip proust says:
    "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.

  • 12 April 2018 at 1:13pm
    stettiner says:
    To be precise, the social democrats governed Sweden for only half of the last fifty years, plus the present term in coalition with the Greens. There's eight parties in the Swedish parliament right now, all social democratic at heart, including the Sverigedemokraterna...

  • 12 April 2018 at 11:46pm
    brearley says:
    "If we had had that in Britain, together with Sweden’s less scurrilous and propagandist press (a big factor, this), Jeremy Corbyn might – just might – have won the last election, and we could have a decent social democratic government by now". Certainly the social democrats and leaders thereof in Sweden match the Labour Party and Corbyn and his co leaders in their lack of action against the virulent and often violent anti semitism for decades at the local and national level. Jews in Britain have been in reality turfed out of the Labour Party as who would stay in when Labour elected representatives freely and publicly speak like the senior Le Pen. In Sweden in the Social democrat run commune of Umeå Jews were recently barred from taking part in the Kristalnacht public observances because the year before they had objected to the presence at the Kristalnacht observance of large Israel flags with swastikas painted on them. And unprosecuted violence over decades in Malmö against any one who dares show a Jewish identity like wear a kippa or Star of David. So Jews knocked out of a main stream political party in Britain and knocked off the streets and the Kristalnacht observances in Umeå, very similar already. Sounds and feels and smells a lot like the 1930s. It is as if post Nuremberg laws that brought protecttion to the individual and the group for the first time in human history have been erased from the British and EU statute books, with the whim and will of local and national politicians free to do as they will as before in Europe.

    • 14 April 2018 at 7:18am
      Bernard Porter says: @ brearley
      I don't usually reply to pseudonymous comments - and if 'Brearley' isn't a pseudonym it doesn't give much of a clue as to who he or she is; so I'll just say here that the accusations s/he makes against both the British Labour Party and the Swedish Social Democrats are highly contentious; and in any case have no direct bearing on the matter discussed in this post.

    • 15 April 2018 at 6:46am
      Joe Morison says: @ Bernard Porter
      I’m usually broadly sympathetic to your arguments, Mr Porter, and I know very little about Sweden, but I don’t think you can say this issue is not relevant to your post when you say that if Corbyn had won we might have had a decent social democratic government: brearly is simply pointing out that the anti-semitism rife in Labour would have made that description difficult for Jews (and anyone sympathetic to their plight) to accept. I also don’t understand how anyone can deny that the Labour Party has such a problem, there are many examples but to take just one glaring example: Ken Livingston's assertion that “when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism – this before he went mad and ended up killing six million Jews.” Comments he has continued to stand by. It is a statement so grotesque that his continuing membership of the Labour Party in itself is enough to justify brealy’s comment.

      The OED defines Zionism as “A movement among modern Jews having for its object the assured settlement of their race upon a national basis in Palestine.” The idea that Hitler wanted this, the assured creation of a Jewish state, as opposed to getting them out of Germany to a convenient distant spot where they could later be wiped out is absurd, the depth of his hatred for Jews is clear in Mein Kamph; the notion that he wanted what was good for Jews until he “went mad” is an obscenity.

      Your comments seem to just brush away the very deep concerns of almost all British Jews on the left about this (about the only exception is Jewdas, the group Corbyn chose to spend Passover with) as if they don’t matter. Indeed, the mere fact that the overwhelming majority of British Jews perceive a virulent anti-semitism as rife in Labour is, in itself, an obvious sign that something is wrong.

    • 15 April 2018 at 11:12am
      Joe Morison says: @ Joe Morison
      [If it’s not too late, I’d like to change the end of the last sentence to]

      ... that something is wrong - for you to blithely assert there isn’t seems to me similar to a male player in Hollywood dismissing the claims of the Me Too movement as highly contentious.

    • 15 April 2018 at 5:33pm
      Bernard Porter says: @ Joe Morison
      Thanks for replying under your own name. (In my view pseudonyms, with no-good reason for them, are cowardly.) In brief reply: 1. the original post was about British and Swedish electoral systems, not Labour's alleged anti-semitism; 2. the latter, in my view, is being hugely exaggerated; and 3. with the possible outcome's being Corbyn's defeat in the next general election, which in my view would be the most enormous tragedy for the country, and not the best way for Jews to keep their left-wing friends (like me). I'll expand on these points at some other time, though probably not on this blog.

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