tisdag 8 februari 2011

Tommy Möller: Mellan ljusblå och mörkblå ("Between light-blue and dark-blue")

Finished Tommy Möller's "Mellan ljusblå och mörkblå. Gunnar Heckscher som högerledare", a biography of the political scientist who became the leader of the Swedish conservative party 1961-1965, after its setback in the 1960 election.

Heckscher joined the conservative party in the thirties despite rather liberal leanings, because he couldn't accept the weak defense policies the liberal party shared with the Social Democrats. He worked against the nationalist streaks that were popping up in those days, arguing that a sound nationalism would not denigrate others, but instead serve as a foundation from which to become a true cosmopolite. After a disastrous election in 1960 – the party lost 4 percent points when they'd instead had hopes of defeating the Social Democrats and taking over government together with the other non-socialist parties – Heckscher was tapped to replace the previous party leader, the charismatic Jarl Hjalmarsson.

Heckscher stepped right into somewhat of a hornet's nest. Not only was the party reeling from the electoral setback, it was also in the midst of an ideological conflict. There were the less strictly conservative "light-blues", who wanted a closer relationship to the centrist parties, the farmers' party and the liberal party, and the more hard-liner "dark-blues". Heckscher would have problems with both factions – he would work hard to get closer ties with the centrist parties, including making concessions resented by the dark-blues, but the results were insufficient to satisfy the light-blues (hence the title of the book).

Heckscher seems to have been a bit before his time in Swedish politics: he was a warm friend of European cooperation and the EEC; he was very much pro-ownership society, which has to some extent been realized with mutual funds and such, leading to a lot of working Swedes having stock ownership (currently, if you have a full-time job, you're usually reasonably well provided for; it's people without full-time employment that have the hardest time); he was very much for encouraging people working, which is also very much current policy; and he was also a warm friend of the non-socialist parties collaborating closely to take over government power from the Social Democrats, which is precisely what has happened – in no small part because the current conservative party, Moderaterna, under Fredrik Rheinfeldt has toned down the dark-blue aspects of their policies and ideology, making them a much more palatable choice for a large segment of the Swedish electorate than they used to be.

Another difficulty that Heckscher had was, according to Möller, that he was very much an intellectual, trying to see the valuable aspects of one's opponents' ideas, reasoning with a lot of "on the one hand – on the other hand" instead of drawing up very clear ideological lines. Me, I'm not sure I buy that argument entirely, as that doesn't come through in Möller's storyline as a major reason for Heckscher's problems IMO. I'm perfectly content with an intellectual politician doing "on the one hand, this and this is reasonable from party X, but on the other, they're coupling it with that and that, which we just can't accept" – I just don't think an intellectual approach is incompatible with ideological clarity at all.

Also, a major cause of Heckscher's downfall also seems to have been him being more or less stabbed in the back by his closest co-worker within the party, party secretary Yngve Holmberg (who would go on to become the next party leader).

This is a good book. It's not only a biography of Heckscher, it's also a brief history of political issues that shaped not only the sixties but also to a not-insignificant extent today's political landscape – Möller is himself a professor of political science and of course knows this stuff. Möller writes a good prose that makes his book an easy read, and a very worthwhile one. My main criticism would be that he takes the conservative perspective somewhat uncritically; criticisms of Social Democratic politicians are taken more or less at face value, and no real attempt is made to look at what their motivations were.

Anyway, recommended. If you're a politically interested Swede, this is well worth your time.

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