Stefan Lofven, right, at this afternoon's press conference with his coalition partner. Photo: Getty.
Show Hide image

Sweden: An anti-immigration party has brought down the centre-left government

Could Labour also fail to pass a budget next year, and trigger a second election?

For more on elections and the UK next election, explore May2015.com.

A right-wing faction has sided with the main centre-right party and deposed a centre-left government. Sound prophetic?

The scenario that could beset the UK next year has just happened in Sweden, less than three months after their most recent elections.

The Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven, leads Sweden’s biggest party, the Social Democrats, and governs in a minority coalition with Green Party, their fourth largest. They have failed to pass a budget after being held hostage by the Swedish Democrats, who demanded restrictions on immigration before allowing Lofven’s measures to pass.

The SDP-Green (or Red-Green) bloc hold 138 seats – 40 per cent of the chamber and well short of the 50 per cent they need. No party has won an outright majority since 1968, but coalitions have long proven effective: this is the first snap election since 1958.

The Swedish Democrats are the chamber’s third largest party, holding 14 per cent of its seats. As Lofven put in his press conference, they are effectively the kingmaker. They can currently choose between the Red-Green bloc and the centre-bloc of four parties – the Moderate, Center, Liberal People’s and Christian Democratic parties – who collectively hold 141 seats.

Lofven is gambling that voters don’t want the right-wing party to be in so powerful a position. He is trying to paint the centre-alliance bloc as having the same beliefs as the Swedish Democrats in the hopes of winning over the centrist parts of the centre-right.

As the Guardian Datablog recently detailed, Sweden admits far more asylum seekers per capita than any other country in the world. Immigration is a still only a pressing issue for a minority, but that minority is in control.

unnamed (4)

The new election will take place on 22 March, just over six weeks before the UK’s general election on 7 May.

The parallels with the UK are striking. As George Eaton detailed in September, Lofven came to power by increasing the SDP’s vote share by just 1 per cent – to 31 per cent – at a time when the Moderates’ share collapsed from 30 to 23 per cent. Disaffected voters turned to the Swedish Democrats, as some Labour voters increasingly seem to be doing now.

You can break down the extent to which Labour voters have been swayed by Ukip in the past five years using our new data portal: 'The Drilldown', which lets you separate polls into demographic groups, compare different pollsters and track recurring questions. For more on how and whether the UK could face two elections next year – which hasn't happened since 1974 – click through for our recent feature.

Explore May2015.com.

Harry Lambert was the editor of May2015, the New Statesman's election website.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.