The Social Democrats, once seen as the natural party of government in Sweden, are now gearing up ahead of next year's General Election. After 4 years in opposition and with a newish party leader, Mona Sahlin, they have created a 3-party coalition with the former communist Lefts and the environmental Green Party, and are currently finalising the details of their joint programme, to be presented in the spring.
But over the past few days the biggest news has been the revelation in a TV documentary that high-profile MP and shadow Justice spokesman Thomas Bodström has been absent from parliament because of his other job as a defence lawyer. Bodström was headhunted to the social democrats by former Prime Minister Göran Persson, and became Justice Minister without even being an MP at the time.
After being elected to parliament in the last election he has kept up his day job, telling party officials that he was not in parliament because of party business, when in reality he has been working in court, and claiming a full salary for both jobs.
But Party leader Mona Sahlin defended Bodström over the weekend, saying it was important for the party to have people with experience of the real world.
"I appreciate Thomas Bodström very much", Sahlin said. "I think it would be a huge waste, if during a a period of opposition, he didn't get the chance to continue to develop in that job as a defence lawyer. I think it's fine that some people in each party combine their job as an MP with another profession".
When asked whether he should get pay for both jobs, Sahlin replied:
"You can't compare having a normal job, where you get paid by the hour, to the job of an MP", she said. "As an MP you get a fixed sum of money per month, whether you spend 100 hours a week in the chamber or not. It's up to the political parties to decide if it is a good thing, and it's up to the public to vote or not to vote in an election for Thomas Bodström, depending how well they think he has done the job".
The far right Sweden Democrats finished their party conference this weekend, and according to the latest polls could get voted into the parliament next year and hold the balance of power between the two blocks in Swedish politics which are about the same size. The current 4 party centre-right government coalition, and the 3 party red-green alliance. But Mona Sahlin says her side will never co-operate with the Sweden Democrats:
"Sweden Democrats leader Jimmy Åkesson has himself said that he will never be part of a government with Mona Sahlin as Prime Minister", she told Swedish Radio, "so it wouldn't happen anyway. But we mustn't go the same way as other countries, such as Denmark, where they let xenophobic parties into power, I just hope Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt will make the same decision. If after the election, we get into a situation like that, we'll take contact with one of the other parties to see how we solve the situation."