I had no idea, when I booked my flight to Stockholm a few months ago, that I would be arriving in the final days of campaigning before the country’s election. Given immigration has featured so prominently in the campaigning, it is an interesting backdrop to my research into how GPs are meeting the needs of refugees and asylum seekers.
Arriving in the city, pre-election anticipation – and perhaps tension – was clear. There was a notable police presence, gatherings of protestors, and organised groups of campaigners. The parties’ posters line the walls of the Metro stations, including this one from the controversial, far-right party the Sweden Democrats which had been daubed with ‘blood’.
On my first evening in the city I found myself sat, two tables down in a Middle Eastern café, from a very senior politician from the Moderate party with his two minders looking on from nearby. I’d spotted the minders doing a recce of the small square, where the café had tables, a few minutes before and my intrigue was piqued… it felt like a scene from a Nordic Noir. I had to find out who he was and two Swedish diners were happy to fill me in, discreetly.
On election day, I took a boat to Fjaderholmarna: a small, picturesque island 30 minutes from Stockholm. In the tourist bubble of artisans’ workshops and a craft brewery, the close-run elections taking place on the mainland felt very distant.
Back in Stockholm, later in the day I met up with Ingrid Eckerman: a retired GP, campaigner for human rights, and editor of a Swedish journal for General Practice. Ingrid took me to see her local polling station; as well as getting to see the proceedings, I enjoyed my first coffee and apple cake (the famous fika) from a stall outside the polling station, run by school children raising money for a trip. Afterwards, Ingrid gave me a tour of her co-house; run by a housing association, it offers private flats combined with communal living. Residents take turns to cook and clean for one another and take shared responsibility for looking after the lovely gardens and orchard. Amongst her roles, Ingrid campaigns for the rights of young Afghan asylum seekers; whilst I was at her flat, one of the young people she is supporting dropped by for a chat.
Ingrid told me that she and her neighbours would gather in the shared lounge at 9pm for the election results but that she predicted quite a long a period of wrangling before a new government is formed. She was right: as of this morning, the make-up of the new Swedish government is unclear but with results showing a growth in nationalist influence. As I look forward to moving on to Gothenburg to get stuck into my research proper, I will be interested to explore what influence the national political context has on policy and practice amongst health professionals at the local level.