David Cameron renewed the Conservatives in Britain for the 2010 elections. What lessons did he learn from Fredrik Reinfeldt’s restyling of the Moderate party in Sweden?
The Swedish conservative party Moderate party, Moderaterna, won the elections in 2006 after more than a decade in opposition. Typically seen as a rich man’s party, they rebranded themselves as a more progressive party in order to gain voters’ confidence.
The British Conservative party was influenced by their success: Tory-leader David Cameron visited newly elected Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt in Sweden in 2007 to learn how to restyle his party which was still associated more than often with Margaret Thatcher and Thatcherism.
“There is a lot the Conservative party has to learn from the Swedish Moderate party in terms of how to win an election”, Cameron then told the Guardian. The restyled Tories went on to win the 2010 elections in the UK.
What were some of the crucial steps that the Conservative parties in Sweden and Britain took in order to rebrand themselves?
Party leader Fredrik Reinfeldt and his PR-guru Per Schlingmann restyled the Swedish Moderate party, giving it the name the New Moderates, Nya Moderaterna, and adopting a new logo.
The Conservative party and David Cameron followed this transformation by replacing their party symbol. The new logo emphasised that the party had become more green, moving away from the old and more nationalist logo.
The Swedish Moderate Party provocatively called themselves the “new worker’s party” in the 2006 elections, referencing their campaign theme of creating jobs by cutting taxes (the party in government at the time was the Social Democratic Worker’s party, a party that has dominated Swedish politics for most of the 20th century).
In the elections of 2010, which the Moderates also won, the tone became even more confident and daring: they now were “Sweden’s only worker’s party“.
The strategy of hijacking the messages of one’s political opponents continued in Reinfeldt’s defense of the welfare society and in appearing more green.
David Cameron followed this strategy by praising the National Health Service, NHS. Cameron’s late son Ivan was taken care of in an NHS-hospital before dying, a choice that increased Cameron’s believability in defending the crown jewel of the British welfare system.
After the elections?
David Cameron’s move to legalise gay marriage this year in Britain is another example of making the political right seem more progressive. One can recall that Sweden’s centre-right government, led by Reinfeldt, legalised gay marriage in 2009, successfully reinforcing the image of a more progressive Moderate party.
When riots hit various immigrant suburbs in Stockholm in 2013, the Swedish Prime Minister didn’t address the segregation, unemployment and poverty that were seen as the root cause by most commentators. Reinfeldt instead said the problem concerned “young men who believe in changing society with violence” and affirmed that “we will not yield to violence“. The words seem quite familiar to David Cameron’s statement after the 2011 London riots, claiming “this is criminality pure and simple“.
The law on gay marriage in Britain shows that also after winning the elections, Cameron is still following Reinfeldt’s example. At the same time Reinfeldt seems to have learned a lesson or two from his British counterpart in handling a political crisis. Will they continue to influence each other in the next 2014 Swedish elections and in the 2015 British elections?