Leading article: The rise of the far right

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One can take the results of Sweden's indecisive election in several ways. One can mark the continued success of the centre right in the county. One can see in the result more evidence of the decline of the Social Democrats, the party which has dominated Swedish politics ever since the Second World War. One can characterise the stalemate resulting from the voting result as the latest in a long line of indecisive European election results. Or one can record the grim signs that in Scandinavia too, the far right is claiming its place in the spectrum of power, with all that this augurs for the future of race relations and social stability in the coming years.

All these interpretations contain an element of truth, although it is easy to exaggerate change in a society as essentially consensual as Sweden. But it is, inevitably, the rise of the far right that will seize most attention in the outside world. The success of the anti-immigration party, the Sweden Democrats, in getting more than 5 per cent of the votes and gaining 20 seats in the new parliament, comes on top of a succession of far right, anti-Islamic, breakthroughs in the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Austria, Hungary, Norway and Switzerland.

Overall, their share of the vote is still relatively modest. And it is premature to make comparisons with the rise of fascism in Europe between the wars. But at a time of finely-balanced results in European elections, even a small share of seats can give the far right considerable influence, as they have in the Netherlands and Italy. And the rise of these parties reflects a real and growing concern amongst many white voters of the effect of immigration on their jobs and their traditional society. Economic recession and rapidly increasing joblessness – including in Sweden – serve to exacerbate a disquiet that has been gathering pace for some time (more so in societies, such as Holland and Sweden, traditionally regarded as tolerant).

To his credit, Sweden's prime minister and winner of this election, Fredrik Reinfeldt, has rejected any coalition that brings the Sweden Democrats into power. But, with the Greens firmly against any coalition with Mr Reinfeldt, the path ahead will not be easy.

Anti-immigration parties are now part of the political landscape of Europe, in Britain as elsewhere, and politicians from the traditional parties are going to have to take note of this democratic challenge. One thing is clear: to deny this reality would be a terrible mistake.

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