Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Sweden Democrats versus the Guardian: fighting ignorance with ignorance

The Swedish general election last Sunday gained a certain amount of international attention. German newspapers devoted analytical energy, French papers provided comprehensive coverage, and yesterday the British centre-left paper the Guardian ran an editorial titled: “The Guardian view on the Swedish elections”.

The election was a disappointment for all parties bar one. The three centre-left parties admittedly managed to oust the four centre-right parties from power. But between them, the centre-left parties increased their share of the vote by 0,2% from the last election  hardly a resounding victory.

The only clear winner was the far right Sweden Democrats (SD); an ersthwile neo-Nazi party that more than doubled its share of the vote – from 5,7% in the last election to 12,9% this election. SD is now the third largest party in the Swedish parliament.

The Guardian editorial described SD-voters as generally “people who will never be fashionable and who live in places at which the metropolitan elite will always sneer.” The editorial then proceeded to confirm that the election result was a damning indictment on the other parties’ collective strategy to ignore SD:
“the agreement reached by all the other parties to ignore them in the hope that they will go away has failed.” [Indeed, it] “has merely strengthened the Sweden Democrats”.
So far so good, I’m thinking to myself. Will the arguably most influential European centre-left paper go on to admonish this inefficient ‘ignoring-the-ignorant’ approach and advocate something new and constructive? Alas, not. After having rightly pointed out the failure of choosing to ignore, the Guardian proceeded to suggest that:  
“the left [...] produce a narrative of optimism and emotion that is anchored in everyday life and that can compete with this populist despair and sense of outraged dignity.”
So, basically, to compete by ignoring the narrative of SD-voters. What a peculiar intolerant way of advocating tolerance. Said “despair” and “sense of outraged dignity” is anchored in people’s everyday lives. Who are others to call it populist? To call it a sense as if it’s not felt as heartedly real? It shouldn’t be dismissed, it should be acknowledged and sought to be understood. No wonder people vote for the anti-establishment when the establishment – as the editorial exemplifies – reject their fears and worries as illegitimate. By continuing to haughtily ostracize and bully these currents the only long term winner will be the racism that this strategy intends to counter.

SD-leader Jimmie Åkesson celebrates on election night.
I do love the Guardian, but here the paper is just regurgitating that banal and hackneyed approach – which has proven itself completely inefficient of course – but I guess it’s an easy way out, keeping the progressive credentials intact without having to delve into the complex, unpleasant, nitty-gritty of it all.

By asking us to continue to do the Emperor’s new clothes, to persist in ignoring the narrative of despair and lost dignity, the Guardian is asking us to just keep calm and carry on sowing the bitter crop that – as we speak – is being reaped throughout Europe. Ignoring a narrative that’s brought SD from the far fringes in 2002 (1,4% of the vote) to the third largest party 2014 (12,9%). Ignoring a narrative that’s brought xenophobic parties into or influencing governments in Austria, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, the Netherlands.

Go on and ignore it, from the middle-class Guardianista terraced houses where it won’t much touch you. Ignore it as you form part of that “metropolitan elite [that] will always sneer” (oh the irony). Ignore it, and the only long term winner will be xenophobia – increasingly entrenched and protracted – with the chief losers being immigrants and the less well-off.

As much as I loathe SD  and oh I do do do do – but when the (now former) Conservative Swedish Prime Minister urged the Swedes to "open your hearts" to the flow of refugees and accept that it will lead to a freeze in public expenditure and/or lead to increased taxes, is anyone surprised that the Conservatives hemorrhaged voters to SD in the election? These are the strategies you get when you ignore the narrative of “populist despair and sense of outraged dignity.”

So sure, ignore that narrative. Dismiss peoples fears, demonize them as blinkered, scorn them for worrying, reject them, and those worries and fears will fester in that ignored vegetation and take an increasingly robust form. 

In Norway, the established parties applied this snubbing approach vis-à-vis the country's major xenophobic party Fremskrittspartiet. Today, the leader of Fremskrittspartiet, Miss Siv Jensen, is the Norwegian minister of finance. And soon her French sister-in-arms might be ensconced in the Élysée Palace.

Ignore it, at your peril.