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."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Travel Consultant

£20000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in London, Manches...

Recruitment Genius: Stock Broker / Trainee Broker / Closer - OTE £250,000

£30000 - £250000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Stock Broker/ Trainee FX, Stoc...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL)

£30 - 40k + Benefits & Bonus: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / ...

Recruitment Genius: ICT Operations Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is the single governing and regul...

Day In a Page

A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests
Mexico: A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life

The dark side of Mexico

A culture that celebrates darkness as an essential part of life
Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde. Don't tell other victims it was theirs

Being sexually assaulted was not your fault, Chrissie Hynde

Please don't tell other victims it was theirs
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935