Spending the last 4 days of the Swedish election campaign in Stockholm with the Social Democrats has been an eye-opening experience. The stark realisation – starting on Saturday (the day before Sunday’s poll – result here, and here (Swedish official results)) that actually they were going to lose, was the toughest part. This is a party very used to governing; for many of the younger members of SSU (the party’s youth branch), this is the first defeat they have ever known. I was 12 in 1992 when Major managed to win – I can just about remember it. Yet looking at 2009, could the same happen to Labour as happened yesterday to Goran Persson’s Social Democrats?
At the Social Democrat election party last night, everyone was keen to draw parallels between the Swedish result and what may or may not happen to the Labour Party in the future. “What you need in the UK is something new. Really new.” So stated a prominent Swedish EU politician to me. “So you mean not Gordon Brown?” “Well, is he new?” Well, not really.
In effect, the election result for the Social Democrats was more due to having been in power for a long time and being seen to be staid and past their best. A reticent and not especially communicative leader that the party was none too keen to work for compounded the problem. Forget the effort of all the diligent local workers; when the national trend is against you, you lose.
In today’s society, the power of being new, the ones with ideas, gives a marked advantage. Blair in 1997 marked a decisive break from the past. The question in my mind is hence this: will Gordon Brown running to be PM in 2009 be a change that is radical enough from the Blair era? Will he actually make the party seem new, bright and optimistic? If he does not, I fear for Labour’s election prospects. Let’s start the campaign for David Miliband now.