If Theresa May feels a bit disoriented and lonely – under pressure from her own friends in parliament – she could take some comfort in that she isn’t trying to run a government in Sweden.
The country’s election delivered an inconclusive result. Prime Minister Stefan Löfven and his red-green coalition government lost a lot of its support, but the four-party centre-right alliance didn’t win many new souls. No side commands a majority – or something remotely close to it. The only parties that made substantial gains were those that no other party wants to take into government – the extreme left and the populist-nationalist Sweden Democrats.
This morning the new parliament voted to kick Stefan Löfven and his government out of power. Even if it was expected, the vote felt more like a routine administrative affair over which firm should install the new coffee machines in the parliament lobby. No one was cheering. Löfven didn’t look as if he was attending his own political funeral. He rather looked as someone expecting to return to power pretty soon.
The four-party alliance doesn’t have a credible idea for how to form a government that could get its key policies through parliament. They could cut some type of deal with the Sweden Democrats, allowing an alliance government to win a parliamentary vote on appointing Ulf Kristersson – the leader of the Moderate Party – as new PM. But the Liberals and the Centre Party have ruled that option out; they won’t be in any government that requires the active support of the Sweden Democrats. Nor do they sound likely to support a centre-right government based only on Kristersson’s party and the Christian Democrats, if the latter two wanted to test that option. Such a government could possibly negotiate directly with the Sweden Democrats, but it would command only about a quarter of the parliament.
So we are back to square one – a government by Stefan Löfven. His message has been clear: he wants to form a coalition government with the Liberals and the Centre Party, possibly including the Greens. He has repeated that message today, despite being defeated in parliament. And he seems to be getting his way.
The leaders of both the Liberal Party and the Centre Party have gradually been warming up to some form of collaboration with Löfven’s Social Democrats. Even if they voted against him in today’s parliament vote, both parties want to see cooperation across the political aisle and know that this can only happen if Löfven takes charge over the new government. Perhaps they actually needed to vote against Löfven for such a government to, eventually, be possible without them getting accused of political treachery. The Liberals and the Centre Party have not defected from the four-party alliance, at least not yet. They are still loyal to the fellowship of the ring. But once the alliance has exhausted the chances of forming a government, the only realistic option left is a Löfven government with support from the political centre. It’s either that – or a new election.