Sweden's 'Cameron' offers an electable right-wing

He is a young father of three who moved his party of right-wingers to the centre ground, bringing it to the threshold of power after years in the wilderness. While David Cameron has revitalised British politics, something similar has happened in Sweden with the rise of the opposition leader Fredrik Reinfeldt.

Since taking the helm of the Swedish conservatives, known as the Moderates, a little more than two years ago, Mr Reinfeldt has pushed through a programme of radical changes, producing the fastest, most dramatic, makeover in Swedish political history.

Elections loom in September and the Moderates have been out of power for even longer than the British Tories, last holding office in 1994. But, at 40, the Swedish opposition leader now stands a good chance of replacing the Social Democrat Göran Persson, who has been Prime Minister for even longer than Tony Blair.

In the 2002 elections the Moderates won just 15.2 per cent of the vote; now their opinion poll rating is almost double that. Mr Reinfeldt has slaughtered several of the right's sacred cows, banished the older generation of neo-liberals and ushered in a new era of caring, social conservatism.

According to Tobias Billström, a 32-year-old Swedish MP and ally of Mr Reinfeldt: "It has been quite a remarkable change that has taken place."

Mr Reinfeldt's personal ratings are higher than those of Mr Persson, whose domination of Swedish politics has been so total that his nickname, roughly translated, means "he who decides".

Bald and stocky, Mr Reinfeldt bears a closer physical resemblance to William Hague than David Cameron, but his politics are decidedly to the left. In 2002, 90 per cent of tax cuts proposed by the Moderates were directed at the top 10 per cent of the income scale. Now the emphasis has been shifted to lower earners.

Trade unions and labour legislation have been presented as an asset rather than a liability. And the opposition leader has reaffirmed his commitment to Sweden's generous welfare state, calling for more money for schools and health care. He wants more effort to integrate immigrants and financial incentives for fathers to stay at home with their new-borns.

Such a shift to the centre has been controversial within the party. Mats Wiklund, author of an acclaimed biography of Mr Reinfeldt, said: "The secret of his success has been to occupy the centre ground. But to him this is a huge risk, banking on the fact that it will bring electoral victory.

"To govern is very important for Moderates. The question remains: what happens if they lose: Will he be able to hold the party's position in the centre?"

Critics of Mr Reinfeldt are keeping their peace until the elections but will not remain quiet if the result goes the other way.

Polls show the Alliance, a coalition of of Moderates and three other opposition parties, is ahead of the Social Democrats, the Socialists and the Greens. But, with the economy performing well, the Prime Minister is fighting hard to retain his job and his party is a formidable vote-winning machine, having been in power for all but nine years since 1932.

Nevertheless Mr Billström says it is already possible to draw some conclusions from his party's success. "It is not about a makeover," he says. "It is about showing people that we are here, we have changed - and not just the logo but the substance behind it."

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sales Consultant – Permanent – West Sussex – £24-£25k plus commission and other benefits

£24000 - £25000 Per Annum plus company car and commission: Clearwater People S...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £65 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Bris...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Bristol: Supply SEN Support Jobs in Glou...

Humanities and Economics Teacher - January 2015 - Malaysia

£18000 - £20400 per annum + Accommodation, Flights, Medical Cover: Randstad Ed...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities
‘A bit of a shock...’ Cambridge economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

‘A bit of a shock...’ Economist with Glasgow roots becomes Zambia’s acting President

Guy Scott's predecessor, Michael Sata, died in a London hospital this week after a lengthy illness
Fall of the Berlin Wall: History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War

Fall of the Berlin Wall

History catches up with Erich Honecker - the East German leader who praised the Iron Curtain and claimed it prevented a Third World War
How to turn your mobile phone into easy money

Turn your mobile phone into easy money

There are 90 million unused mobiles in the UK, which would be worth £7bn if we cashed them in, says David Crookes
Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs:

Independent writers remember their Saturday jobs

"I have never regarded anything I have done in "the media" as a proper job"
Lyricist Richard Thomas shares his 11-step recipe for creating a hit West End musical

11-step recipe for creating a West End hit

Richard Thomas, the lyricist behind the Jerry Springer and Anna Nicole Smith operas, explains how Bob Dylan, 'Breaking Bad' and even Noam Chomsky inspired his songbook for the new musical 'Made in Dagenham'
Tonke Dragt's The Letter for the King has finally been translated into English ... 50 years on

Buried treasure: The Letter for the King

The coming-of-age tale about a boy and his mission to save a mythical kingdom has sold a million copies since it was written by an eccentric Dutchwoman in 1962. Yet until last year, no one had read it in English
Can instilling a sense of entrepreneurship in pupils have a positive effect on their learning?

The school that means business

Richard Garner heads to Lancashire, where developing the 'dragons' of the future is also helping one community academy to achieve its educational goals
10 best tablets

The world in your pocket: 10 best tablets

They’re thin, they’re light, you can use them for work on the move or keeping entertained
Lutz Pfannenstiel: The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents

Lutz Pfannenstiel interview

The goalkeeper who gave up Bayern Munich for the Crazy Gang, Bradford and a whirlwind trawl across continents
Pete Jenson: Popular Jürgen Klopp can reignite Borussia Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern Munich

Pete Jenson's a Different League

Popular Klopp can reignite Dortmund’s season with visit to Bayern
John Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

Cantlie video proves that Isis expects victory in Kobani

The use of the British hostage demonstrates once again the militants' skill and originality in conducting a propaganda war, says Patrick Cockburn
The killer instinct: The man who helps students spot potential murderers

The killer instinct

Phil Chalmers travels the US warning students how to spot possible future murderers, but can his contentious methods really stop the bloodshed?
Clothing the gap: A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd

Clothing the gap

A new exhibition celebrates women who stood apart from the fashion herd
Fall of the Berlin Wall: Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain

The Fall of the Berlin Wall

Goodbye to all that - the lost world beyond the Iron Curtain