He defended the government’s track record in creating jobs saying 200,000 more were in work since 2006 but admitted that more needed to be done.
The leader of the main opposition party, Stefan Löfven, is not a member of parliament so the Social Democrats were represented by the party’s parliamentary leader Mikael Damberg.
As expected he went hard on the attack against the government’s record on tackling unemployment.
“Has the government really done enough to create jobs?” he asked.
“Unemployment today is at 428,000. There are nearly 50,000 long term unemployed young people. But tens of thousands of people could have jobs to go to if the government had made the right investments.”
Damberg attacked the government’s tax cuts, and lower charges to employers, saying that the money would be better spent on education and training.
He went on to argue that the government has failed to deliver on all its main promise after seven years in power.
“The Moderate Party’s three big election promises in 2006 and 2010 – more jobs and less exclusion, didn’t happen. You promised to improve schools but results have dropped every year and segregation has increased. You promised to lower income gaps but the OECD’s latest report proves that has failed. “
The prime minister played down the OECD report which revealed that income inequalities have risen faster in Sweden than any industrialized country. He said that it was a statistical quirk caused by changes in other countries and that people in lower paid jobs had it better today than when the government took power.
When Damberg accused the Prime Minister of being in the same position today as his Social Democratic predecessor Göran Persson in 2006, who also had low poll ratings, Reinfeldt repled that Persson did not have his commitment to creating more jobs.
The debate also focused on the recent riots in Husby and other suburbs. The anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats leader Jimmie Åkesson pointed out that foreign born people are far more likely to be unemployed and he criticized subsidized government work schemes that
The PM went on the counter attack, defending the governments record on integrating of minorities.
“It is hard for new arrivals to this country to get into work because it’s hard to learn the Swedish language. But we have more than 700,000 foreign born people working here. I’ve met several immigrants who’ve had job training but feel they get turned down for jobs because they have a foreign name – they say their only chance is if someone from their home country gives them work,” he said.
“The difference between us is that we want to bring people into this society and Jimmie Åkesson wants to keep them out.”
The other smaller parties mainly focused on their core areas, with the Left Party arguing against private sector profits and venture capitalists in Sweden’s education and health sectors. The Greens attacked the government for a lack of commitment to climate change.
Two government coalition parties, the Centre, led by Annie Lööf and the Christian Democrats, led by Göran Häglund are fighting for their political survival with dangerously low poll ratings. Both put on strong performances in the debate, defending their business and social affairs portfolios. But whether it will have any effect on voters remains to be seen.
What is increasingly clear is that the Left Party appears to be left out in the cold – not considered part of the Socialist-Green alliance as they were in the so-called Red Green bloc at the last election.
There will be more speculation on how election alliances shape in the at Almedalen political week in two weeks’ time. Then after the summer break electoral campaigning will get into full swing in late August.