Financial Times -juttu vaaleista


Kirjoitin The Financial Times -lehteen seuraavan analyysin Suomen vaaleista. Se julkaistiin 20.3.2007.

Bohemian rhapsody is bolstering Europe´s centre-right

A centre-right coalition seems likely to be formed as a result of Sunday´s
parliamentary election in Finland, meaning that centre-right parties will
control all the European Union´s Nordic and Baltic member states with the
exception of Lithuania. The question is whether this sweep to the right
will extend to the French presidential elections this spring and, later, to

Ségolène Royal, the French Socialist candidate, should pay close
attention to what is happening in northern Europe. Tax and spend social
democracy is out. A new brand of bohemian bourgeois politics´is in.

The thing about BoBos – as bohemian bourgeois voters are sometimes
referred to – is that they are neither very bourgeois nor very bohemian.
Theirs is a world that happily combines a Scandinavian welfare state with
economic liberalism.

Here are a few recent findings from Finland. Only 27 per cent of people
agree that ”a high level of taxation is part of the Scandinavian welfare
model and must therefore be accepted”. Half of the population (49 per cent)
is convinced that good public services can be financed through lower
taxation. Only 16 per cent disagree. Seventy per cent think income tax
rates are too high.

Estonia is the most extreme case of economic liberalism gone mainstream.
Andrus Ansip, prime minister, promised that Estonia would become one of the
EU´s five wealthiest nations in 15 years. How? By cutting the present flat
tax rate of 22 per cent to 12 per cent!

BoBos are happy to have their cake and eat it too. They do have a social
conscience. In Sweden, the conservatives (or the Moderates, as they are
called in the land of consensus) won the elections by claiming that the
Social Democrats had played statistical games with unemployment and by
asserting that the average Swede was actually getting poorer.

In Finland, centre-right parties won a clear majority of the vote with a
campaign that combined the rhetoric of David Cameron, leader of the British
Conservatives, with the consensus style of Scandinavian politics. Jyrki
Katainen, leader of the conservative National Coalition party, took climate
change seriously. He spoke about caring and encouraged everyone to rise
above old ideological divides. He refused to be drawn into negative
campaigning. Indeed, most commentators think the Social Democrats, part of
the previous centre-left coalition, lost because their biggest supporter,
the Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions, launched a campaign
against the rich, which made Social Democrats look like they lived in the

The big question now is how Finland´s likely centre-right government
will get along with the trade unions. The last time Finland had a
centre-right government, in the early 1990s, the unions threatened a
general strike. But times have changed. Most business leaders believe that
a general strike has become a nuclear option: it must be avoided or jobs
will move to Asia and Estonia at an increasing pace.

Connoisseurs of old-fashioned politics may look down on the modern
centre-right voter. They may dismiss BoBos as latter-day Yuppies. But
something larger is at stake here. Fewer and fewer people in Europe define
themselves as working class. The epithet of choice is middle class. (In
Finland, half of Social Democratic voters define themselves as middle
class.) The rising middle class seems to combine many of the values of
bourgeois individualism with an unembarrassed acceptance of the welfare

Centre-right parties have captured the imagination of the bohemian
bourgeois voter in northern Europe. In central Europe, the situation is
completely different. The defining characteristic there is the rise of
populist parties. These parties do not like liberalism, be it social or
economic. They believe in big government and authoritarian leaders. The
Swedish Moderates, the Finnish conservatives and the Estonian Reformists
look reassuring by comparison with the twin brothers in charge in Poland.

Who will win the minds and hearts of the new middle class in France and
the UK? The message from the north seems to favour the mix-and-match
approach of Mr Cameron over the more traditional line taken by Gordon
Brown, Tony Blair´s likely successor as Labour prime minister. It can also
be interpreted as a warning to Ms Royal, whose policies come dangerously
close to those advocated by the Finnish and Swedish Social Democrats. But
then again, when was the last time the French voters paid any attention to
trends outside France?


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