The Green Party has now become a government party, with six Cabinet ministers, including a woman Deputy Prime Minister. Thirty-three years since the party was set up, it is about time. Most of the Green Party’s comparable sister parties have experience of government. When people with a commitment to improving society decide not to content themselves with acting as opinion-formers, pressure groups, lobbyists (which are also important and necessary roles in the social process), but want to try to find ways of exercising political power directly, and therefore set up a party, it is logical that participation in government should be a pivotal objective. The Green Party is in that position now, and all Green supporters should be happy.
Why the electoral setback?
At the same time, it is clear that the 6.9% vote is seen as a setback, especially since the success in the EU elections and a series of opinion polls which showed between 8 and 11%. Why did the Green Party fall back in the sprint to the finish, and end up with a result which is actually 0.4% behind the 2010 election result? I think there are three main reasons:
- There was no discussion of environmental issues. How can the environmental crisis, which is before our eyes and ears every day in real life, from chemicals in our food to climate-induced weather disasters, not be at the forefront of the election debate? The media bear a heavy responsibility, but they are not alone. The problem has been that the Green Party has not succeeded in creating a clear conflict around most environmental demands. The Green Party has often fought battles with shadows, against evasive opponents, and the result has been no media interest and no voter mobilisation. Could the Green Party have handled things differently? Possibly, in some cases. Has the Green Party sometimes, perhaps, kept a low profile for the sake of the Social Democrats and their party leader Stefan Löfven? The fact is that on most environmental issues a stark and visible conflict with the conservatives is also a conflict with the Social Democrats (this is particularly clear from the account of the parties’ environmental behaviour which the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation compiled before the election). All in all, the Green Party can hardly win an election campaign where the environment is not a major subject, however outstanding the party’s proposals in a range of other areas, such as schools, discrimination and diversity, may be.
- Stefan Löfven’s tone-deafness on environmental issues. This, for one thing, may have dampened down the Green Party’s tough stances (see above). Secondly, the apparent lack of commitment to environmental issues by the candidate the Green Party pledged to back for Prime Minister may have caused some of the environmentally committed voters to waver.
- ‘Vote theft’ by the Feminist Initiative (FI). The polls show that FI took 1.5 to 2% of the electors who voted for the Green Party in 2010. It was admittedly a deliberate (and proper) attitude on the part of the Green Party not to attack FI, which is seen as a sister party. If FI had passed the four per cent threshold, it would have been worthwhile. But since FI only got 3.1%, it seems to be interpreted as a wasted favour. The question is how the Green Party acts from now on. Perhaps there should be talks with FI on running a joint election campaign in 2018.
Why were the xenophobic Sweden Democrats successful?
The Sweden Democrats’ (SD) success does not seem to have cost the Green Party any voters, but it is nevertheless a major national and democratic problem. We all have a responsibility for trying to stem a downward spiral of the kind which hit Denmark. How should we go about it? I have no definite answers, but I do have a few suggestions:
- Stick to the refusal to cooperate politically with SD, but always treat SD in a formally correct way.
- Keep up the fight against racism, but do not conduct it in such a way that all SD voters feel they are in the firing-line.
- Respond to SD’s claim that letting refugees in takes money away from social welfare in Sweden, firstly by pointing out the errors in SD’s calculations, but particularly by expanding and improving welfare provision, especially for the worst off.
- Revive the concept of security, which seems to have disappeared from political theory and practice. Secure people are not afraid of others taking their jobs and their livelihood. Secure people rarely vote for SD.
- Put the emphasis on concrete, practical integration. We must combat the forming of ghettos, whether social or ethnic.
- Continue applying a liberal immigration and refugee policy, but explain much more effectively why it is not only a humanitarian approach but will also ‘pay off’ in the long run.
- Be clearer about admitting that immigration creates friction and problems of transition.
For the Green Party to identify itself as SD’s main opponent is the proper line to take and a source of pride for all Green supporters. SD policy is wrong in every way. But having the SD party as the main opponent must not make all SD voters feel they are being singled out as the Green Party’s opponents. It is a difficult balancing act, but we must carry it off or we risk getting even worse results in 2018.
How can we combine radical protest with governmental responsibility?
The Swedish Green Party and other green parties came into being as a protest against the prevailing social order. After a good 30 years of existence, the last 20 of them as a parliamentary party, the Green Party is no longer seen self-evidently as the vehicle for a completely different vision of society. The protest against the powers that be and the misuse of power which was a feature of the Green Party’s youthful days has partly drifted rightwards. This is an enormous challenge for a party which, despite all the adjustments it has made and even the ties its members have put on, if you read the party and election manifestos, stands for a very different social model from the ones put forward by either the Social Democrats or the conservative alliance. How is this protest message to be got across while the party is part of the government?
It won’t be easy. A book came out recently by Cécile Duflot, who was a Minister for Europe Ecologie Les Verts in Socialist President Hollande’s government from 2012 to April 2014. It is a scathing critique of how the power game crushes Green dreams. When the Minister of the Interior, who had made offensive remarks about Roma people, was appointed Prime Minister, she had enough and resigned. And, just before the Swedish election, the Greens in Finland pulled out of that country’s government because of a government decision to build a new nuclear reactor.
The conclusion is not that Greens should avoid entering into coalition governments. But they must be prepared to say No thanks if the price becomes too high. If people start to believe that a Green party is the same sort of greedy, cynical, power-drunk bunch as the usual old parties, we’re done for. How will the Green Party successfully avoid that? Start by learning from other Green parties’ experiences of government!
Has the betrayal of Green ideals already started?
Some Greens and former Greens have already started talking about Green betrayal. Some time after the election, former spokesman Birger Schlaug (who had already left the party some ten years earlier) claimed that the abbreviation MP following the negotiations on forming a government should be interpreted as standing not for the Green Party (MiljöPartiet), but for the Meaningless Party (Meningslösa Partiet). Why has there been this ratcheting-up of harassment?
Obviously, the red-green government declaration does not constitute a radical Green revolution. Surely, though, no one can think the Green Party should only collaborate in a government which makes the Green Party manifesto its government declaration?
Although the government declaration has a gray undertone, it contains quite a few green and pink spots. It mentions the environment (15 times) and the climate (14 times) more often than the sacrosanct question of jobs (13 times)! Renewable energy (six mentions) and equal treatment (four) come ahead of run-of-the-mill Social Democrat concepts like growth (one mention) and industry (one).
There are some anti-Green features, of course. Increased defence spending and more JAS aircraft are money wasted. If you really think Putin is planning to attack Sweden, it will take a great deal more than that. What it is actually about is surrendering to the ‘military-industrial complex’. Even so, the Green Party must let the Social Democrats have some victories, and now the Putin regime is ‘asking for a thrashing’ I cannot think of a more appropriate concession from the Greens than defence.
What is more, the the Social Democrats have had to return the favour by allowing the Greens a sizeable victory. This has now happened, with the halt to new nuclear reactors and the start of decommissioning. Anyone who is in any doubt should listen to the outburst of rage from Vattenfall and the Liberal Party and the cheers from the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation. How would it have been if the Green Party had declined the chance of government power and Löfven, that advocate of nuclear energy, had been left a free hand to sort things out with the Liberal Party?
Anyone who reads through the government declaration will find some very forceful Green pledges. It says, for example, that ‘the countries of the world must stop investing in what is destroying our planet’. As almost all investment has a destructive, environmentally polluting side, this means a radical curtailment of the traditional, carefree enthusiasm for growth. It also says: ‘National environmental objectives must be met.’ As the introduction to the government declaration states that the period of conservative government led to ‘Sweden missing 14 out of 16 environmental targets’, the pledge now given to achieve all 16 environmental targets is a very far-reaching one. It must be followed up with very radical, specific measures, for which the Environment Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Åsa Romson is primarily responsible, not to mention the other five Green ministers. If the Green pledges given in the government declaration are implemented, the Green Party will be able to face the voters with confidence. If not, then the Green Party will be forced to consider whether the party should follow the lead set by Les Verts in France and Vihreä in Finland. I hope this won’t happen, I hope the Green Party, like Die Grünen in Germany, can stay in office as long as the red-green government lasts, and then face the voters from a stronger position.