The Swedish Elections may have resulted in an overall shift to the left, but the big story of the night was the rise of the Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna).
The Sweden Democrats (SD) took an unprecedented 13% of the vote – up over 7% from 2010 – to become the third largest party in the country, and increase their representation in the Riksdag to 49 – up 29 seats from 2010. The party famed for it’s anti-immigration stance polled far higher than both opinion and exit polls suggested, whilst the Feminist Initiative who were predicted to be on the cusp of the 4% threshold required to gain seats in Parliament, fell short with 3.1%.
In an attempt to distance themselves from the Swedish Democrats, alliances from both left and right have been ruled out. Social Democrats leader and Prime Minister-designate Stefan Lofven has announced a desire to form a group with the Greens and other “anti-racist” parties. Meanwhile the Moderate Party, the big losers from the Election, have also refused to co-operate with the Swedish Democrats.
The results rather confirms the mood from May’s European Elections. Euroscepticism and concerns over immigration are continuing to grow, reflected in the rise of the sometimes unfairly dubbed ‘far-right’. Media bias and smears have failed to turn voters away from them, if anything they have strengthened their support.
The news has come as a shock to many, particularly around the rest of Europe. Yet with Sweden’s liberal immigration laws – an estimated 80,000 asylum-seekers will enter the country this year – the rise of a party like the SD, rightly or wrongly should have been anticipated, particularly after the European Elections. The fact that these Elections have been reported as such a shock is further proof that the growing concerns of the public are still being ignored. Branding people who hold these opinions as xenophobic and racist is foolish and has only served to further alienate ordinary people from mainstream politics.
Looking from a UK perspective, the news from Sweden will come as a boost to the UK Independence Party. The Sweden Democrats and UKIP form part of the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) group in the European Parliament.
Opinion polls in Britain show UKIP consistently polling at around 15%, slightly higher than the Sweden Democrats. However due to the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system in the UK it is highly unlikely that UKIP will garner anywhere near the representation in the House of Commons that the Sweden Democrats have in the Riksdag. Similarly, if Sweden operated under FPTP, votes for the Sweden Democrats would almost certainly not have translated in to seats in the numbers that they have.
Does this indicate a significant problem in the UK voting system? Well not if you support either Labour or Conservative, or hold a dislike for UKIP. Based on current voting intentions for the General Election in 2015, the likely scenario is that UKIP will pick up around 15% of the vote yet no more than around five seats. Labour are currently predicted to gather around two and a half times the popular vote of UKIP, which predictions suggest would give them around 350 seats. Two and a half times the vote, 70 times the number of seats. This isn’t a case of being sympathetic to UKIP. In 2010, the Liberal Democrats polled 23.2% of the vote, compared to Labour’s 29%. The Liberal Democrats won 57 seats, Labour 258. The Conservatives took 36.1%, which gave them 307 seats.
Without getting too technical, the Riksdag in Sweden more or less equally represents the popular vote. If we applied this to the current opinion polls in the UK, UKIP would be on course to make up around 100 of the 650 MPs in the House of Commons in 2015 – a whole 20 times more than what they are currently on target for. Using this system for 2010, the Liberal Democrats would have won around 150 seats (up 93), Labour 189 (down 69), and the Conservatives 235 (down 72). A far more accurate representation of how the public voted.
Of course, it’s a lot easier to decry calls for an electoral system to be changed providing it doesn’t affect a party you support. Everyone knows the Greens like a good shout, if it were they who were picking up a sixth of the vote but facing less than one hundredth of parliamentary representation, you can guarantee you wouldn’t be able to move in the liberal hotbeds for weeks.
In a democratic society, if the public vote for something they have the right to be heard, no matter their opinions. It is time outdated systems which serve to protect the Establishment parties who have little interest in offering any real change left or right were abolished.
Euroscepticism, immigration concerns and a desire to regain sovereignty is on the rise across Europe. But not all countries will show it.