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Swedes and Greens


9:05 am - November 23rd 2007

by DonaldS    


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I’ve never been much of a joiner. Even though I’ve worked as a writer/journalist for a few years, I only sent my form off to the NUJ last month. The Union, the Tartan Army, the Tufty Club… and, er, that’s about it. Still, I have given recent thought to joining my local Green Party – so I read Dave Osler’s recent piece: Green Party: vehicle for the British left? (and there), with interest.

Like Dave, I doubt the Greens can build a systematic left-wing alternative to Labour, now properly classified as a ‘centre-right’ not a ‘left’ party. But I do believe the popularity of mainstream greenish politics offers something. A ‘moment’, perhaps, for slipping something with a progressive flavour in with the recycling. A reasonable place to look for inspiration is Sweden.

Sweden’s Green Party have just finished 8 years as junior coalition partners in a red-green government. Top of their list of achievements was the inauguration, in January 2005, of a so-called Alternation Leave policy. Under this scheme, 12,000 Swedes have the annual opportunity to take a government subsidized sabbatical from work (similar to parental leave, but without a baby). Three main conditions apply: employer consent is required; the vacancy may only be covered by recruiting from the pool of current unemployed; you may not work while on leave, except to start a new business.

While headline UK unemployment is low, we have above-EU-average rates of economic inactivity for males aged 25-64 (pdf, p.9). More than supposed sick-man France. Schemes that give the jobless employer-based training may pay us back in the long term. Alternation policies similarly support entrepreneurship: give your big idea a go, with a twelve-month safety net should things go Pete Tong.

We hear a lot about ‘lifelong learning’ – this policy puts its money where its mouth is. Here’s a year – go fill your head. It’s also liberal (voluntary), costable (set numbers in advance) and even supports ‘family values’. Plenty of Swedish alternation-leavers have spent their time raising children or extended family. It’s a practical way to show government commitment to ‘work-life balance’, that goes beyond platitudes.

None of this will smash the capitalist system and reclaim surplus value for the working (wo)man, of course. It’s not a workplace panacea. It does, though, combine sellability with the seeds of a new model for employee/employer relations. A start towards ‘Scandinavianizing’ British working life. Maybe even a real-world path to a Citizen’s Income. Even more interesting than the details of the policy (which I’d call ‘intriguing’ rather than ‘convincing’) is the realisation that in a galaxy not so far, far away from us, There Is Never No Alternative.

Of course, for our Greens to get anywhere near Westminster, we’re going to need a serious dose of electoral reform first. And that, as they say, is another story.

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About the author
Donald is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is a travel journalist, editor, author and copywriter. In the wake of the 2005 General Election, he co-founded and edited The Sharpener for a couple of years. He writes the occasional book or newspaper article for money, as well as sharing his thoughts here for free. Also at: hackneye donaldstrachan.com
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Story Filed Under: Debates ,Economy ,Green party ,Lib-left future

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Reader comments


That’s a really neat idea.

Labour, now properly classified as a ‘centre-right’ not a ‘left’ party

I disagree with this. In the higher echelons of Westminster government, this charge carries some force, but I don’t get that sense from actions and policies of Holyrood Labour, for example, or from any of the grass-roots activists I meet.

This a confused post, typical of most Green party members and policies. It (like the members and policies) fall into the trap of allowing their ideals to be undermined by the processes by which they would bring them about.

It is an appealing post, though. It appeals because behind all the conflicting rhetoric is a mind clearly focussed on positive outcomes. While this grabs attention with fluffy empathy it neglects the two eternal questions of politics, namely 1)do the ends justify the means? and 2)what precedent(s) will be set if the answer is yes?

Frankly, the prospect that the (British) Greens will continue to practise that level of naivety is a threat to any levels of peace, prosperity and democratic inteligence that we may currently enjoy and the further they stay away from political power the better.

The coaligned hodge-podge that comprises the (British) Greens has some serious analysis, debate and reform to do before it will be taken seriously as a separate and independent force in politics with any real and wide-ranging contribution to make beyond single-issue campaigning and publicity grabbing direct action stunts. And, please, Peter Tatchell is to the Greens what Robert Kilroy-Silk was to UKIP – he’s a celebrity politician, get him out of there.

I couldn’t disagree with the final sentence of DonaldS’ final sentence more. I live a short commute from Westminster. Three out of three of my ward councillors are Green, so is my County councillor. We need less chat, more engagement with the local community and more volunteers and members. On Wednesday a Green motion at the full council was unanimously approved, to get the whole town plastic bag free. The local Lib Dems spout a lot of greenwash but don’t know how to engage with people. Without our small group on the council, no green initiatives would get done. Start small, show people their ideas are valued and can make a difference, then move on from there.


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