Breaking the Mould?
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.