We have for several decades lived without the ‘isms”; communism, socialism, capitalism, liberalism, and more or less clearly defined ideologies and political thoughts. Added to this, should be the most popular version of ‘socialism-light’; social democracy, which is a mix of socialism and capitalism, a pragmatic hybrid of thoughts, best implemented in Scandinavia, but common all over Europe, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Although it is still voter-gathering even today; the social democratic parties are, with conservative ‘light’, centrist parties, are often the largest parties. Alas, they have not been able to renew fast enough. The old ‘isms’ are discredited; communism in the former Soviet Union, and also capitalism to a large extent, especially after the recent financial crises in USA and the world less than a decade ago.

Today, and in a few articles later, I shall reflect on these broad political issues. Why are the ‘isms’, which had last century’s political wisdom and tools, and built the affluent European welfare states, no longer seen as quite relevant and enough for the future? Well, the old political parties are still in power, and at least the older segments of the populations know they were key in creating wealth, democracy, human rights improvements, labour rights, better work environment and pay, gender and ethnic equality, and more. Still, why do many feel disillusioned, sometimes even those who vote for the old parties?

Why do people vote for or sympathise with Donald Trump in USA, Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Alexander van der Bellen in Austria, and Jimmie Akesson in Sweden, and other leaders of populist and protest parties? Some of those who voted for Brexit in UK also belong to this new form of opposition. They want something different, although they may not quite know what they want.

In my youthful years in the 1960s and 70s, it was the left that was modern, and we questioned the establishment and the way the world was going. Few far-left parties got into formal political positions, but they influenced the main parties for the better. Today, maybe there is something in the right and the far-right protest parties that we must listen to? And then, not all they say is protest either; it is more a shout for being included, for the politicians to bother to understand them, the downtrodden and poor, mixed with the successful and selfish. Often, politicians have become like civil servants, and their language and way of working have distanced them from the people in our complicated, technocratic world. Thus, it is the fault of the time, not only the politicians. Yet, the politicians are our leaders and they are charged with helping us find new and inclusive ways, and address issues people think are important in a language we all can understand.

Let me tell you a bit about the right-wing opposition parties in Scandinavia since that is the part of the world I know best, and I hope it can also shed some light on the situations in other countries.

In the Swedish parliamentary elections in 2014, the Swedish right-wing party, the Sweden Democrats (SD), received 49 MPs, 13% of the votes, out of a total of 349 seats. None of the old, established parties has gone into dialogue or cooperation with the SD party, yes, for obvious reasons, one would say. Typically for such new, extremist parties, SD has focused on stricter immigration rules as well as opposition to the European Union (EU), of which Sweden is a member. The party has, or has had, some members and leaders with Nazi-sympathy, although the leaders deny or tone it down.

Recently, Anna Kinberg Batra, leader of the Conservative Party (Moderaterna) and candidate for Prime Minister for the autumn 2018 elections, said that there might be a limit for how long the SDs should be considered untouchable, considering that they also are the third largest party in Parliament, after the Social Democrats (113 MPs, 31% of votes) and the Conservatives (84 MPs, 23%). Expectedly, she was criticised for saying it, but at least she opened the debate. I believe that was important, and it could also make the SDs skip some of their more far-right ideas.

In neighbouring Denmark and Norway, there have been parties to the right of the conservative parties for several decades; Denmark was first in the 1970s, and Norway followed suit. At that time, the parties were mainly against import duties, high taxation (including the 15-20% VAT sales tax), and the often detailed government regulations, what was seen as the state’s interference’ in too many aspects of people’s everyday life; they would also emphasise law and order issues, and later came their active opposition to immigration.

The Norwegian ‘moderately’ right-wing party, the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet), has become acceptable by the other parties, and is now for the first time member of the cabinet, led by the Conservative Party. It is no longer seen as openly extreme, not even in immigration and refugee issues, knowing that the other parties would not go along with them if they went too far; besides, they all would lose face if they did, being accused of chequered nationalistic values. Some say that the Progress Party has saved Norway from getting a really extremist far-right party. The Swedish SD party may well draw lessons from the Norwegians to get accepted in ‘polite company’.

I believe lessons from Scandinavia can be generalised to other European countries. The more extreme parties in France and the Netherlands could learn from the level-headed Scandinavians. However, if parties are indeed very extreme and true right-wing parties, it may take many years or a decade for the moderate sections of such parties to be able to cooperate with the politicians in the old and established system. Remember, though, that the left-wing parties from my youthful years did it, yes, with fairly watered-down policies.

I would suggest that today’s political parties, the old, established ones, and the new, populist and quite extreme ones, need to reconsider their ways and priorities, and as importantly, how they organise their parties, present their policies and engage with the voters. The divide in communication must be entirely changed; if there is something that has been successful in the recent decades, it is the extensive, new communication technology and forms, but we must find better ways of using it in democratic politics.

As for new political substance in the new age, in the coming decades, what should the old and new political parties prioritise? What are the important issues that face us today and tomorrow?

These are big questions, and too much for me to attempt replying in today’s article, but I will try my best to shed light on them in future articles. Today, I would like to mention, though, that some of the issues that the populist parties have taken up, albeit often in crude forms, are important; notably international economic development issues, which include international trade, development aid and immigration issues.

We need to find new and more inclusive ways of international cooperation, immigration and economic development. The Old World’s models and institutions are not good enough, and nor the political parties and their cultures. In a true, more equal and democratic international world with several poles, not only dominated by Europe and America, we must realise that the West’s solutions and institutions, which were created after WWII, are not carved in stone. In the new age, we must address old and new issues in old and new ways, through new and renewed old parties. The world is no longer only for the West, it is for people everywhere in a diverse world. The populist parties have contributed to that wake-up call, in their own way.