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The Bumblebee Who Didn't Fly

The best analysis yet of what happened to Sweden since 2014. Rush translation of a Timbro piece by Johan Ingerö.

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Stefan Löfven shouldn't have been able to become either party leader or prime minister. Coincidences made him both. This strange combination of coincidences has contributed to one of the most dysfunctional terms of office in Sweden's democratic history.

He was not made for this. He never learned his new role. To see Stefan Löfven as prime minister, speaking to a big crowd in Asia, visiting the White House, posing with the other EU leaders, was like watching a turtle on a lamppost. One couldn't help but constantly wondering: 'How did he get there?'

If Sweden had been an English-speaking country, there would have already been at least a couple of dozen books about Stefan Löfven's road to the corridors of power. And about his impotency, when he managed to get into them. The Swedish language is too small for that kind of book, and it's a shame. For this term of office, it would have to be highlighted from a variety of perspectives, to avoid ever repeating it.

Stefan Löfven became a party leader in a particularly unconventional way. In spring 2012, social democracy had been plagued for months by the Håkan Juholt business. The atmosphere in the party was a mix of rage and panic. Juholt had become party leader the year before, after several more logical names were blocked. In social democracy, they know how to block. The party's leading names have all known each other since they cheated with membership figures together in the youth league. They know where they have each other, and they know that everyone is hiding stories that must not end up in the press. They have fought hard fights, not in the least in the 1990s when both the EU issue and the savings crisis broke the party in the middle.

Now those fighting youngsters have grown up into adult men and women in government. They still fought, but they had to realise that they had to get along one way or another. A right-winger from Stockholm, Mikael Damberg, could therefore not become party leader if the left wing in Skåne said no. Morgan Johansson, Ulrica Messing, and all the others mentioned were equally impossible for the same reasons. One by one they were forced to raise the white flag.

That's why it became Juholt. And ten months of complete chaos. When he left (or rather resigned) the blocking continued. The names that were impossible in 2011 were equally impossible in 2012. Eventually, glances began to wander over to the only one around the executive committee's table that did not seem to have any internal enemies. The only one who was mostly silent at the meetings and, if one gets to believe the quotes in Daniel Suhonen's report, The Party Leader Who Came In From The Cold, barely understood what the civil war was about. Stefan Löfven, chairman of the metal worker's union, and a committee member solely on the union mandate.

Two and a half years later. The 2014 election results were sinking in. The leftists increased marginally, the right-wing lost big. The winners for the evening were the Sweden Democrats, who more than doubled their electoral support. Nevertheless, and even though a majority in the newly elected parliament did not want him as prime minister, left and right agreed. Stefan Löfven would be prime minister.

This is what's so unique with Stefan Löfven and his time in Swedish politics. He should not have come this far. You should not be able to become prime minister on the basis of a few random events.

Just becoming a party leader is an achievment. Most of them have been in politics since their young years. They have learned to debate, discuss their opinions with others, while building their own position in their own party. They have worked hard and purposefully for the right to lead. Once they enter office, it takes place within the framework of a well-defined image of what they are and what they want.

Even in this group there are few who get the opportunity to lead the country's government. Just look at some of those who lost. Göran Persson 2006, Carl Bildt 1988, 1994, and 1998. Ingvar Carlsson 1991. Olof Palme 1976 and 1979. We're talking about people who were the main political talents of their generations, with a desire for politics that seems to have excluded almost everything else. They devoted their lives to politics, hated to lose. They thought about politics around the clock for decades. They are politics.

Stefan Löfven is not one of them. He first became party leader for a lack of acceptable alternatives, then prime minister for a lack of sensible challenges. He has no personal mandate, no known ideas about where he wants to lead the country. He thinks it is important to 'cooperate', but he does not understand the connection between honouring and praising someone and then not getting that same person as a partner. He launches concepts - Innovation Catapault, Developmental Ethics, Chancellor of Industry - which are not understood even when they are actually realised. He seems completely unable to reason freely, but stubbornly sticks to talking points that others seem to have written.

It is of course also because the conservative parties and their voters are so frustrated. At least Göran Persson has been responsible. They respected him. Feared him, maybe. But Löfven? He fumbles from one epic fail to the next, forced to drop one campaign promise after another. He is a political mediocrity, and at the same time invincible. He is also completely shameless. Refusing to acknowledge even the most obvious mistakes. When the nation's worst security leak since the days of Cold War espionage breaks in the media, he pretends to be completely ignorant. Others have known, but they have not said anything to him. Both civil servants and politicians are sacked, whilst Löfven remains, unrestricted. And the conservatives can't get at him.

'Stefan Löfven taught us that not everyone should be prime minister.'

That is why the years since 2014 have been such a trauma to so many. For the Social Democrats who could not use the government in the same way as before, and who failed to set their agenda. For the environmental party who did not understand the realities of governance until they were run over by them. For those conservatives who could not get used to defying a social democrat leader they barely respected. The citizenry also saw what happened. The highest confidence figures for individual politicians have, for quite some time, hovered just over thirty percent. Ten years ago, the corresponding figures were fifty to sixty percent.

School taught us that anyone can become prime minister. Stefan Löfven taught us that not everyone should be prime minister. There are many reasons for the gambling and blocks during his term of office, but his monumental political clumsiness is one of the more important. Whatever happens now, one thing should be obvious: we cannot have any more government like that of Stefan Löfven.

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