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Tel: 01724 842000
Social Democrat Party Congress, Gothenburg.
Last week was a bit different. I found myself in Gothenburg representing the British Labour Party at the Swedish Social Democratic Party Conference. I worked for two years teaching in Sweden at the beginning of the 1980s and still speak a little bit of Swedish so that might be why I had my arm twisted to go.
The first thing that surprised me was how sunny it was compared with the dreadful weather we’ve been experiencing! The second thing to strike me was how similar the issues of concern being debated were – how to tackle youth unemployment, education, health and how to get the economy going forward.
The Party Leader – Stephan Lofven - is an ex-steelworker so he was easy for an MP from Scunthorpe to relate to. He spoke sensibly about the need to make everybody responsible for themselves but to also assist them in getting jobs. He pledged that if elected next year he would make full employment the number one policy goal of an incoming Social Democrat Government.
His main message was to emphasise the damage the current government is doing to the country.
He talked of the need to strengthen health care and ensure Swedish health care remains amongst the world leaders. As in the UK there are changes happening in healthcare and people are concerned that it should not be driven by making money rather than the needs of people.
Youth unemployment is a big issue in Sweden, as it is here, and he spoke of his aim to guarantee that every young person under 25 can have a job, training or education to ensure a skilled and vital workforce.
He highlighted the fact that Swedish public education in crisis mainly due to the same divisive school system that Michael Gove is trying to bring about here in the UK.
Leading the debate on the Swedish economy, Magdalena Andersson brought home the similarities between our countries. Sweden also has a government whose policies are based on the opinion that people are lazy and that if you cut welfare people will be forced into work. She was very clear that this policy just isn’t working.
She spoke on the need for policies somewhere in between austerity and more borrowing and that the threat to recovery was from lowering taxes taking priority over everything over everything else. Sound familiar?
I also met with Ibrahim Baylan, deputy chairman of the education committee and spokesperson on educational issues for the Swedish Social Democratic Party to get a briefing on education issues in Sweden.
It was interesting as he appeared to be saying that the problems we foresee in the UK regarding Michael Gove’s changes to our schools, which emulate the Swedish system, have already happened in Sweden. Schools for the better off have been created within the state system - leading to a real division in education.
There are also real worries that businesses will take profits out of the schools and what happens when those businesses walk away from schools as has already occurred in one instance in Karlstad. He also talked about the need to raise the school leaving age to 18.
As the Moderatana government has provided tax breaks for those who can afford it paying for extra tuition for their children, the Swedish Social Democratic Party has made a commitment to provide support for all children with their homework.
Finally I contributed to a seminar on Climate Change. It was good to hear the Swedish Climate Change spokesperson Matilda Ernkrans singing the praises of the UK as having taken the lead in this - and Ed Miliband in particular for introducing the legislation into parliament.