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

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.

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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.


Harry Lambert is a staff writer and editor of May2015, the New Statesman's election website.

Photo: Getty Images
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How can Britain become a nation of homeowners?

David Cameron must unlock the spirit of his postwar predecessors to get the housing market back on track. 

In the 1955 election, Anthony Eden described turning Britain into a “property-owning democracy” as his – and by extension, the Conservative Party’s – overarching mission.

60 years later, what’s changed? Then, as now, an Old Etonian sits in Downing Street. Then, as now, Labour are badly riven between left and right, with their last stay in government widely believed – by their activists at least – to have been a disappointment. Then as now, few commentators seriously believe the Tories will be out of power any time soon.

But as for a property-owning democracy? That’s going less well.

When Eden won in 1955, around a third of people owned their own homes. By the time the Conservative government gave way to Harold Wilson in 1964, 42 per cent of households were owner-occupiers.

That kicked off a long period – from the mid-50s right until the fall of the Berlin Wall – in which home ownership increased, before staying roughly flat at 70 per cent of the population from 1991 to 2001.

But over the course of the next decade, for the first time in over a hundred years, the proportion of owner-occupiers went to into reverse. Just 64 percent of households were owner-occupier in 2011. No-one seriously believes that number will have gone anywhere other than down by the time of the next census in 2021. Most troublingly, in London – which, for the most part, gives us a fairly accurate idea of what the demographics of Britain as a whole will be in 30 years’ time – more than half of households are now renters.

What’s gone wrong?

In short, property prices have shot out of reach of increasing numbers of people. The British housing market increasingly gets a failing grade at “Social Contract 101”: could someone, without a backstop of parental or family capital, entering the workforce today, working full-time, seriously hope to retire in 50 years in their own home with their mortgage paid off?

It’s useful to compare and contrast the policy levers of those two Old Etonians, Eden and Cameron. Cameron, so far, has favoured demand-side solutions: Help to Buy and the new Help to Buy ISA.

To take the second, newer of those two policy innovations first: the Help to Buy ISA. Does it work?

Well, if you are a pre-existing saver – you can’t use the Help to Buy ISA for another tax year. And you have to stop putting money into any existing ISAs. So anyone putting a little aside at the moment – not going to feel the benefit of a Help to Buy ISA.

And anyone solely reliant on a Help to Buy ISA – the most you can benefit from, if you are single, it is an extra three grand from the government. This is not going to shift any houses any time soon.

What it is is a bung for the only working-age demographic to have done well out of the Coalition: dual-earner couples with no children earning above average income.

What about Help to Buy itself? At the margins, Help to Buy is helping some people achieve completions – while driving up the big disincentive to home ownership in the shape of prices – and creating sub-prime style risks for the taxpayer in future.

Eden, in contrast, preferred supply-side policies: his government, like every peacetime government from Baldwin until Thatcher’s it was a housebuilding government.

Why are house prices so high? Because there aren’t enough of them. The sector is over-regulated, underprovided, there isn’t enough housing either for social lets or for buyers. And until today’s Conservatives rediscover the spirit of Eden, that is unlikely to change.

I was at a Conservative party fringe (I was on the far left, both in terms of seating and politics).This is what I said, minus the ums, the ahs, and the moment my screensaver kicked in.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.