Mr Cameron goes to Stockholm
When David Cameron travelled to Stockholm this week he re-established an old tie with Scandinavia – one which has generated mutual success for the conservative parties in both Britain and in Scandinavia
When David Cameron hosted the UK Nordic Baltic summit in January he was following an old Tory Party habit. Indeed, contrary to modern day perception which suggests that Cameron’s actions were out of the norm for a Conservative leader, and evidence of a keen interest in social-democratic policy, history shows us that since the Second World War the British Conservatives have had an active relationship with Scandinavia and with the Baltic region.
Back in 1945 Denmark and Norway became firmly attached to the West through NATO while Sweden and Finland choose neutrality due their closeness to the Soviet Union. But when Harold Macmillan went to Moscow in 1959, he wore the same kind of fur hat that had been worn by Finnish soldiers fighting the Soviet Union during the war: a clear sign – although one at first missed by the Soviet hosts – that the British Conservatives saw Scandinavia as a bulwark against Communism.
The British concept of a “property owning democracy” was adopted by the Swedish Conservatives to tackle the Social Democratic version of the welfare state, seen as “the people’s home”. Although the Swedish Conservatives were not in government this policy was more successful in Sweden than in Britain. According to the political scientist Stig-Björn Ljunggren Sweden today is “a propertied democracy”.
In 1976 a Swedish centre-right coalition for the first time in forty-four years won the general election and formed a government. At that year’s Conservative Party conference in Brighton, representatives from the Swedish Conservative Party were invited to lecture about the election. In her conference speech, Margaret Thatcher also mentioned “all over the world from Austria to Sweden, from New Zealand to West Germany, Socialism is on its way out”.
Two years later the Centre-Right organisation, European Democrat Union was founded. The British Tories and the Swedish Conservatives were two of the parties that founded this organisation to rival the Social International.
In 1980 the Swedish Minister for budget responsibility, the conservative party leader Gösta Bohman, was invited to London for talks with Geoffrey Howe. According to the notes from the Swedish delegation they took “a great interest” in what the Thatcher government tried to do. Moreover, the British wanted to learn about how the Swedes were taxing welfare in order not to avoid unemployment becoming “an attractive alternative”.
The Swedish Conservative Party envisaged an Anglo-German-Scandinavian centre-right axis between London, Bonn, and Stockholm.
More recently, in 1993 the Swedish Conservative Prime Minister Carl Bildt was invited to the Tory Party conference in Blackpool. His speech, advocating deregulation and lower taxes, was met with standing ovations. At the same time, the International Office of the Conservative Research Department helped the new centre-right parties in the Baltic countries and in Central Europe.
It’s no secret that Margaret Thatcher is famous for her relationship with Ronald Reagan which strengthened the Conservative Party’s ties to the US Republicans. However, when David Cameron travelled to Stockholm this week he re-established an old tie with Scandinavia – one which has generated mutual success for the conservative parties in both Britain and in Scandinavia.
David Linden is a PhD student in history at King's College London. His thesis is on Scandinavia and the New Right, 1975-1991
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