‘Hello. I’m lesbian threesome,’ the young lady tells Taki. ‘And I’m Mongolian rampage,’ says the young man beside her. We’re at Jeremy Clarke’s book launch in the Spectator’s back garden, to which he invited a dozen Low Life readers chosen for submitting the best stories of drunken debauchery. Some were summarised in Jeremy’s column last week, which made for a marvellous party. Throughout the evening, guests tried to match the face to the story. Which reader was kneecapped by a pimp in Amsterdam? Who was the academic who got into a drunken fight with a janitor over the affections of the chemistry teacher? My favourite exchange of the night: ‘Do you think that’s the chap who was whipped naked with riding crops?’ ‘No, that’s Charles Moore.’
To the island of Gotland for Sweden’s annual political festival — elegantly flat-packed into a few days, rather than the weeks of party conferences to which Brits are subjected. Each party has a dedicated day but everyone mixes. I spot the leader of the Christian Democrats; she’s 28 years old. (‘It’s the new 45!’ explains one of her staffers). Party leaders mix with dog-walkers in the park and anyone can turn up to speeches. Quite a contrast to Britain, where party conferences are sealed off from the public by a ring of steel. Things could go wrong — a recent Nordic noir novel imagines Sweden’s entire political class held hostage in Almedalen, the festival site. But the worst that has actually happened was a feminist shaking her naked breasts at the Prime Minister. It’s a risk that the Swedes are prepared to run.
The Woodstock mood of this conference has been rather dampened of late by the presence of the Sweden Democrats, a populist anti-immigration party who now have enough seats to qualify for their own day in Almedalen. Everyone else talks about how to crush the party, but not many talk about the issues that trouble its voters. It’s a fairly typical problem in Scandinavia, which is why, for the first time since the war, only one nation — Sweden — has a social democratic party in power. Populists have felled all the others, and felled Sweden’s conservatives last year.
The problem is fairly obvious to any visitor to Stockholm. The authorities have become so welcoming to immigrants that they are turning a blind eye to misbehaviour, leaving Romanian beggars free to patrol the city’s underground and even camp in the shopping streets. This has changed the look and feel of several Swedish cities. To make matters worse, the government’s euphemism for beggars is ‘EU migrants’, as if all this was the natural result of immigration, rather than poor policing. Tragically, Sweden’s openness is now eating itself, as many voters have come to associate immigration with social decay and disorder.
One woman tells me that she and others now accompany Jews on their way home from the synagogue in Malmö to protect them from Muslim gangs. Such stories are enough to make Swedes wonder whether the government has lost control. My job is to talk about Britain’s ability to integrate immigrants — which, I argue, has been a standout success. Newcomers find work fairly easily here, our police keep order fairly well, and our far-right party, the BNP, was crushed at the general election (its support fell 99.7 per cent).
One lesson we’ve imported from Sweden is school reform. It’s going rather well, as I saw last week when I joined the Question Time panel at an Oasis Academy just outside Southampton. It’s a gleaming new school serving one of the most deprived parts of Britain. The two schools it replaced had just 19 per cent of pupils achieving five or more good GCSEs. That figure is now 49 per cent, and rising. Andy Burnham was on the panel, and ought to have shouted from the rooftops about the school, a Labour-era success. But Labour seems as embarrassed by its successes as the Tories are by their failures.
Mind you, nothing much embarrasses the Conservatives nowadays. They held a spectacularly glitzy fundraising dinner on Tuesday night with an austerity-free auction. Lot 1 was a week at a private Jamaican villa for 17 of your closest friends. Lot 3: drinks for 100 at the London Cabaret Club. Lot 5: a day in Tunsmore Park (‘You will be given the chance to shoot an array of birds’). Or for the less social, a moat-digger (‘ever wanted to own your own JCB?’). Bizarrely, the biggest sum — £200,000 — was paid by a large telecoms company for a yet-to-be-taken photograph of the Cabinet. This kind of thing is fine, I suppose, as long as the press doesn’t find out.