Sweden swings to the right

// 20 September 2006

Sweden has elected a right-of-centre government, kicking out the Social Democrats that defined the country’s much envied social model.

Why? Polly Toynbee says it’s all about the women.

Sweden’s women ministers fumed during the campaign as Persson ignored the party’s record on childcare and maternity and paternity leave, which should have been the Social Democrats’ proudest electoral assets. He let the right set the agenda with traditional male politics when it is the women-friendly subjects that win the Social Democrat vote. Forgetting about women seems a peril of power.

Let’s hope that Sweden’s deeply embedded social values will mean that the winning Alliance can’t undo all that good work in the next few years.

And it wouldn’t be a Toynbee column if it didn’t include wise words of wisdom for the Labour party leadership:

Above all, Labour needs a woman as deputy leader. And not any woman, but the woman who persuaded the party that childcare was the only route to getting families off welfare and into work. That means Harriet Harman, to remind what’s been done while pressing for much more. What a pathetic figure Ming Campbell cut in an ill-advised photo opportunity on the beach with his tiny cohort of women – only nine out of 63 MPs; yet the Lib Dems, like the Tories, still refuse to use quotas to get more women into parliament. Labour has 97 women MPs. Polls show that voters feel women are more “on their side” – yet Labour still fails to use their strength. The Swedish result warns that without the women’s vote, Labour is lost. It’s not an add-on: women are the main event.

Well, yes, women are the main event. So why does Toynbee have such small ambitions? Harman et al should be shooting for the top job.

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