Saturday, July 17, 2010

 

David Cameron's 'Socialist Paradise' in Scandinavia

I was probably the only person in the UK listening to Ed Stourton's 'Politics UK', on BBC World Service at 5.0am today, but it had a fascinating little item on Sweden and how political perceptions of it have changed. I take a special interest in the country as I have visited many times and was married for over 20 years to a Swedish lady. When my contacts with the country began, it was perceived as a kind of social democratic utopia, with fabulous public services run with a Germanic efficiency. 44 years of Social democratic rule had transformed this once poverty stricken 'poorhouse of Europe'(from which one third of its population emigrated to America during the first decade of the 20th century) into a species of paradise.

I marvelled at the gleaming public services, the amazing levels of care for the elderly and the generous adult education provision. Labour supporters, like Anthony Crosland led his own party to place Sweden on an admiring diaz. But not everyone was impressed. Roland Huntford's The New Totalitarians, in the early 1970s, accused it of being so cloyingly helpful it resembled Aldous Huxley's Brave New World. Rightwing critics were vocal in condemning the alleged homogenous 'boring', humourless nature of Swedish society. Knowing as many funny, interesting Swedes as I did, I could never agree with such negative views. To me it always seemed like the acceptable synthesis of a wealth creating free enterprise system, distributing its gains on socialist principles of fairness.

But now it's all changed. It's now, apparently, one of Cameron's favourite countries, exemplfying how market forces can remove the dead hand of state bureaucracy and add dynamism to moribund services. This applies to education- their socalled 'free-schools' and their health services too. So odd to hear this socialist paradise being praised so passionately by people who once excoriated it. But it might have more than a little to do with the Moderate's leader (ie Conservative),Fredrik Reinfeldt(pictured), who emerged as prime minister in 2006 and has done much to add a transformative gloss to half a century's social democratic achievements.

Friends tell me Sweden is still an amazing country in which to live where the social democratic ethos still survives. If Cameron is drawn to emulate any country, I'd prefer it to be Sweden rather than the USA, but the problem is that Britain starts from a position lagging so far behind the point when Reinfeldt took over. And Swedish conservatives are so much futher to the left than a party most of whom still idolise Margaret Thatcher. But carry on Dave, you might even learn something about fairness and social justice.

Comments:
Fascinating post. I'm writing on these kinds of international comparisons at the moment...not so much from a policy discovery standpoint (per Richard Rose etc) but rather a political discourse perspective. What's most interesting to me here in the US is how international comps are used to help in problem definition and diagnosis. I'd be interested to know if you hear of anyone writing on this kind of thing...Best, Alistair Howard (alistair@temple.edu) BPG etc...
 
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