One thing that attracted me to living in Sweden originally was the politics of the place here. Sweden is famed worldwide for its political progressiveness, its liberty to choice for all, the collectivist and fair nature of the state, the welfare system supporting families and, interestingly for me in my job, the added social conscious that is expected from public-private partnerships.
Now, you are all aware that I can be a political creature of sorts myself. I have stood for elections to political office of different levels and roles many times. Like the title of this, I found myself young and idealistic, believing I did have perfect answers for the world and where I wanted to take it – I’m sure just like anybody involved in politics at that age. My student union role I think taught me that although I knew politics more than ever, I knew what I thought a lot less. I learnt to represent people, and that is still today what gets me passionate about. Representation, working out what everybody thinks and saying that is the way forward, became something more than what I believed. In student politics, often as you imagine, there were agreements (at least at a place like Durham, which regardless of political background tries to be progressive, compared to somewhere like Bradford…mentioning no names) and I felt that the power of the people made much more sense. When we didn’t see eye to eye, I still saw and could still replicate the arguments.
And this changed how I think about politics now. It’s made me see that it is disagreement between good and evil, the different sides are in 99% of the world I believe looking to see the same key things. For peace, for safety and security, for happiness, for knowledge and understanding. There is more that unites different political parties than seperates them (and I include ‘far left’ and ‘far right’ in there.
The younger, idealist Ben had his values quite firmly set. There were some key issues that set me alight with political passion. The rights of young people, an access to a working wage, education policy always interested me though. They set my political compass for me, I wanted equality for people, now we could give it, for young and old, male and female, immigrant or native. I believe, like I naïvely still do and probably need to preach more, that we are going to have to lead each other and work together to solve the problems of society and the wider world. We can’t do these things on our own. This last thought explains why even with my dad and his powerful rhetoric of the power of those on the left, working for the people, fighting for the people, I wasn’t quite comfortable with that, the workers are only one of many groups (and indeed, I think Unions need a kick up the backside too much for not being progressive enough and fighting the separate issue of keeping their membership high mainly). So, when asked to pick a party to stand for in the School’s ‘Mock’ Election in 2005, with the Green and Lib Dems taken I put myself in the Labour stand and have remained until very recently.
What bugs me about the Labour party is its history. I was no Blairite. Despite joining at the time of his leadership it wasn’t him who made that for me. I consider myself democratically socialist though, if one has to put labels on it (and sadly, I believe, one has to in organised countries with a political history), and the Labour party then becomes the party of choice in that field.
Yet, by saying I wasn’t a Blairite, people next asked me when talking politics ‘oh, you must be old labour then?’ Well no. I couldn’t give about old labour. I know very little about political history, I just do what I think is right with it all. It’s in the past as well…I am, once again, progressive in my outlook. Old Labour has recollections of a different age in politics, where the politics of the day was very divisive, and I want it to be something that brings people together instead. Even where I disagree with their views, I believe I could engage and understand those in all walks of the political sprectrum, and I even include those with extremist views in that. I believe that any thought out political ideology deserves time and respect; I believe many extremist views, at least in the 21st century, come from justifiable human instinct about fear and the unknowns of the wider world, which would be perfectly natural to feel like for our species only a few generations ago. How can we expect our bodies to naturally cope with the globalised and civilised world we live in now naturally?
However, I believe we have to cope and have to embrace it now otherwise society will take a step backward as our biggest challenges now are those we need to work together for.
And this what was got me into politics, and then out again. I loved being involved with the Labour Club at University, despite its needless infighting. It gave me so many good opportunities not just to tell my friends about (being invited to Blair’s leaving speech and sitting next to Nick Robinson during it being one), but also I got the opportunities to try real politics, standing twice for council election. It was great fun, but it was fun because I was given the reign to run it myself, I wasn’t going to win, but I was damn as hell going to try.
And it was my own style of politics, and that made a difference, however the more I worked with the party, the more I became disenfranchised. We seemed to be encouraged not to work with our opposition, but against them, in a big game that actually did think we were on opposite sides of the human race. I couldn’t take this any more, especially as the Labour party became opposition and it was all criticism after criticism, little constructive, and moving to Sweden was great for me as I left.
My few big issues that I do have, they still remain with me, and here I try and translate them to where they need to be politically. I translate across my Labour membership to Sweden and I see the Social Democrats, the architects of the things about Sweden we from the outside love and respect. However, Sweden has choice, it has 8 parties in the parliament and they do all get equal opportunity there with campaigning and exposure.
And all my close friends here are in the Greens. The Greens here I would say are somewhere I fit in a little more than the UK equivalent, combined with the mainstream effect (Sweden’s 3rd largest party currently) they are actually using the progressiveness Greens are known for and taking it outside to new areas too rather than just environmental politics, they make everything environmental politics. I also love the members they have ready to take on all sides of the political debate.
I have gripes. Although I think we need 21st century thinking for a 21st century world, I think the issues need to be bought in by the people rather than forced upon them a little bit. Internally, it is wrong to have two leaders and specify one from each sex. You want equality – then preach equality – do not split people up by their different characteristics. If the best two speakers were female, then have both as female, and vice versa.
I have gripes with the political system here too, where you vote for the party before you vote for the candidate, and it should always be the other way around I believe if we want to encourage thinking from all sides of a debate.
And also, I don’t know if I’d be at home, more like I was renting a place to stay politically. I feel a strong Green awareness presence in my politics, but without the need for that label. It’s too important to have as our headline issue, good, idealist, progressive, liberal politics today should include it anyway I believe.
It leaves me at a little bit of a political imbalance currently. Do I want to get involved? If so, where? How? Why?
That why, may be as much about meeting some kind like minded people. And the idealist in me thinks I could find them in more than one place in the Swedish political system.