Politics awaiting the next idea

It was then that Herbert Tingsten wrote Frånidéer till idyll (From Ideas To Idyll), where he argued that the time of ideology was past.

The proud slogans and principles should be put aside and politics should focus on gradual adaptation and practical problem solving. Now, it appears the differences between the major parties are only becoming smaller and smaller, and the opinion polls are playing a much more important role than the theses and tradition when standpoints and strategies are being established. The tone is higher than during the well-groomed 1960s idyll, but in the midst of battle lurks peace. The political parties are waging a bitter zero-sum game, where there is 100 percent at stake, and one man’s gain is always the other’s loss, but you have to have a well-trained eye to perceive the nuances of the two camps’ dreams about how electoral success will be used. Where once plan opposed market, the choice now comes down to percentage points.

What to say about this perspective?

First, it has a lot to speak for it. Fredrik Reinfeldt’s Moderates (M) and Stefan Löfven’s Social Democrats (S) proclaim eagerly that they are as different as night and day, but you would probably have to be a party worker to agree. M and S are not in exactly the same place on the political scale, but the difference is more about nuance rather than stark contrast. Regarding issue politics, the differences may have been small on previous occasions but, as we stand before the election year of 2014, it is not just the proposals, but also the maxims and messages about the way forward that are confusingly similar.

Secondly, appearances can be deceptive. Tingsten saw the growing consensus on values, and concluded that peace would prevail. But, just two years after he came out with his book, it was time for 1968 with its sharp ideologising, first of social democracy and eventually even of parts of the middle class. There is no law of nature that says no wind today means the doldrums tomorrow.

Thirdly, the absence of ideological conflict is not the same as the absence of ideas. Politicians and bureaucrats can be absolutely agree that one should only take into account the practical, reasonable and rational in their decision-making, but their priorities are inevitably based on beliefs about what is right and wrong, wise and perverse, modern and antiquated. Beliefs and values ??do not become less real because they are unspoken or because they are currently perceived as uncontroversial. One moment’s norm can be the next moment’s embarrassment – just think of the school debate.

The situation has changed pretty quickly. The previous term had significantly more conceptual content than the present one. The Alliance’s victory in 2006 happened because the bourgeoisie and a group of voters in the middle had tired of Goran Persson’s stewardship, but also because the bourgeoisie had grasped a fundamental idea: it would be more rewarding to work. The working tax credit was a new technique, the design of which many still have not understood. But the important thing was that it was linked to a moral conception of work’s value and significance. The bourgeois politicians proposed a deal to the electorate: that all citizens who can support themselves should do all they can to find and keep a job. The politicians, for their part, would provide the best conditions for getting work and make sure that those who work get to keep more of their pay.

To many, this sounded right and reasonable.

When the message was translated into practical politics, however, the picture became more mixed: the reduced income tax was obviously popular. The changes to a-kassa (unemployment insurance) and health insurance aroused, so to speak, less appreciation. And, by the 2010 election, the line had changed character with the emphasis shifted from the ‘dignity of labour’ to ‘more money in your wallet’. The idea had thinned out and, in its worst moments, the message about the work principle became a message about new monetary gifts from the government.

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That the election resulted in a minority government only reinforced the trend: in the government there was not much of the conceptual energy from 2006. For the Social Democrats, the focus was on not making fools of themselves. Politics has found a new centre of balance, and the election campaign – from both sides – looks to be a lot more about who should have power rather than what they should do with it.

In the theme section ”From idyll to ideas” in this issue of Axess, are five writers with some modest proposals for what to do, but, above all, with some inspirational ideas.

Unfortunately, it can also be the case that significantly worse beliefs capture people’s imagination and make their mark on politics. History offers no guarantees, and it never ends.

PJ Anders Linder

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