Why the title of this blog?

Out of the UK since 1999, living in Sweden since 2011, my observations are literally from a different place. But over 20 years my perspective's changed, so I also come from a different place mentally.


After Covid I had hoped for a quieter year of recovery, but what an extraordinary year 2022 turned out to be. Who could have imagined a full on conventional kinetic war in Europe, a further swing to autocratic populism, culture wars becoming so extreme as to be almost laughable, and of course three Prime Ministers of the UK within a year. Here are some of my own thoughts…

Conflict in Europe

The war in Ukraine has dominated 2022  for me, personally and in a broader sense. My wife was brought up in the Soviet Union. She has a very close involvement with over 2,500 followers on social media, and we have also had a Ukrainian refugee staying since the early days. My own interest as a historian has developed deeply, and increasingly intensely and personally as people who used to work for me in both Kyiv and Moscow still keep in touch. The invasion has shattered so many of our post war beliefs. I am sure that military historians and analysts will study Russian miscalculations for years, as well as the extraordinary resistance of the Ukrainians, and the perhaps surprising unity of the West. 


But what has really affected me profoundly is the human tragedy and cost of a conflict that has been more barbaric than I  could possibly have feared. Irina and I are both in pretty constant contact with friends in Ukraine, and perhaps the new year message from one of our friends, a medic in Dnipro, sums up the awful human cost more than anything I can write, since her comments come straight from the heart and the war:

“What an Impossible to sum up 2022.
After all, I have a feeling that this day has not ended - February 24, 2022.
My heart is breaking, crying and thinking about those who have lost loved ones, all those who died protecting us or at home. Torn apart families, lost connections, the inability to hug family and loved ones.

One wish is to hug everyone and save them from this horror and say that everything will be fine. And I really want it to come right now

Hold on, believe, help everyone who needs it.

Set the table for those who are nearby, it's the most precious thing we have

  • Dawn will come!” (Tanya P)

Sadly I think there is much more pain to come but I will go on hoping for a just end to the war. And of course for no further instances of nations thinking that military power can be used to resolve international issues. My memories go back to the heights of the Cold War, and it does seem remarkably similar today. Who would have thought that we would even be considering that any nation would think of using nuclear weapons  in 2023? But however unlikely, we are considering that Russia might.

The rise of repressive populism?


After what seemed like a slight retreat in 2021 the forces of nationalist populism seem to be on the rise again. Israel has its most right-wing nationalist government ever, Iran and Afghanistan continue to deny women even the most basic of human rights. Turkey, Hungary, Poland all became more autocratic, threatening the consensus of liberal democracy that has underpinned society in Europe for so long. In France and even here in Sweden the right made advances, fuelled largely by fears of uncontrolled immigration (and in Sweden by reaction to the rise of violent gang crime, largely immigrant run). I fear it’s a trend that will continue – it’s so easy to blame outsiders for everything that is wrong in society.


As the first world struggles to cope with aging populations, the energy crisis, the cost of living, it will be more and more tempting to blame outside factors. Immigration, war in Europe, the pandemic, anything other than acknowledging that governments have neglected for years the warning signs that were always there, and made no plans for the future. Even climate change has been denied, downplayed, ignored as governments do anything  to stay in power. Nice sounding ambitious ideals but almost no explanations of how we are going to achieve those net zero targets!


A divided society


Solving national problems is not made any easier by our increasingly divided societies. Many years ago I was involved in national politics in the UK. Though I disagreed profoundly with our opponents’ policies, I could still respect their opinions and agree to differ. How different today’s politics seem, parties divided into warring tribes. The USA is perhaps the prime example, with single issues such as abortion dividing the country and generations, while  the massive rift between Republicans and Democrats makes the idea of bipartisan co-operation almost impossible. As for the UK, the Brexit referendum was over six years ago, yet still seems to divide the nation beyond party politics and in the most bitter ways.


Single issues feed into the so-called culture wars, fuelled by rabid social media commentators and trolls. Revisionism has gone beyond a realisation that colonialism  was not all good into declarations that it was all bad. Historical figures are no longer realised to be products of their time with the values of those times but are condemned outright. Personally I think that Churchill had some unpleasant qualities – as indeed did Gandhi, whose views on black South Africans would not be acceptable in today’s world. But their faults should not negate their positive qualities and achievements.


The past is a different country and its values should indeed be debated and exposed, but to impose today’s values on the past is to do historical consciousness a disservice. Denial of the right to hold differing views is a difficult subject always, as I remember from debating with Holocaust deniers years ago. But it seems to me that tribal divisions reflect not only a growing intolerance of other views, but also increasingly deep fractures in our social contract. An obvious example of extremism in one cause hurting the achievements of others is trans opposition to traditional feminists being able to air their views without receiving threats of losing employment or even personal violence


The UK from outside


It’s hard to comprehend from outside how strange Britain seems to have become. Of course I realise that comments like ‘it’s back to the winter of discontent’ and ‘Britain’s once again the sick man of Europe’ are exaggerated, but it is true to say that I and other expats are continually asked what on earth has happened to the United Kingdom. Certainly Brexit was seen in Sweden as a monumental error, and one that inevitably has weakened Britain’s position in Europe and the wider world. But this year has seen more questioning than just why the UK left the EU. Now friends ask how on earth did Johnson get elected even, let alone for so long,  since he seems so uncaring about personal morality and belief in truth and  serving the nation rather than just himself and his friends. And then we had the difficult task of trying to explain how Truss could be elected PM by only around 170,000 non-elected members of the Tory party. The collapse of her administration seemed to me to be greeted here by heads just shaking in amazed disbelief.


But even bewilderment over British government dysfunction has paled beside the two over all impressions of the UK viewed from Scandinavia at the beginning of 2023. First is the widely covered and seemingly growing impression of what I can only call sleaze. The various scandals in government concerning paid lobbyists, sexual scandals, party donors paying for decorating a Prime Ministerial residence have all contributed to this impression. But what has caused the most raised eyebrows here  are the growing scandals over PPE procurement during the pandemic, and how some well connected people seem to have profited hugely and corruptly from a national crisis.


The second comment I hear regularly comes from the current wave of industrial disputes and comments on how bad public services are in the UK, still one of the world’s biggest economies. “Surely it’s simple” one friend said recently “if you want good services you have to pay for them. It’s not rocket science. I don’t understand how you can complain about terrible public services at the same time as refusing to contemplate higher taxes. It just doesn’t make sense.”. Sadly, that seems to me to sum up the basic conundrum in British society perfectly.




So as the year turns I face the future with trepidation and fear for the generatoions younger than myself, facing global challenges that seem to me to need societies to come together not dvide more and more into conflicting tribes. On the other hand I  have always been an optimist at heart, so I will continue to hope for a more peaceful  and prosperous future. I wish all reading this a personally happy and prosperous 2023.


Two events of the last couple of days have set me thinking, the assassination of Navalny Alexei and the withdrawal from Avdika. I realise that I have rarely if ever been so depressed and concerned by international events. I wasn’t alive when the West abandoned Czechoslovakia in 1938 in favour of ‘peace in our time’. I was in hospital with an eye injury during the Cuban crisis and remember listening to the hospital radio. I was an undergraduate when we did nothing to help Czechoslovakia (again) in 1968. Finally with the end of the Cold War,  a few years of hope. Solidarity, the fall of the USSR, the velvet revolution, the opening of global trade, even the Arab Spring…. perhaps there would really be a true peace dividend.

False hopes of course. The assassination of Rabin meant for me the end of nascent hopes of a genuine movement to a lasting peace in the Middle East. Now we have a horrendous conflict in Gaza with no hope of a peace process let alone a settlement  - as long as the current Israeli right continues to wield political power in return for keeping the current regime in power.

The rise of Putin meant the end of any hopes of a genuine if fragile democracy developing in Russia, and now we have a major conflict on the European landmass for the first time since WW2. But it’s not the fact of the war itself that depresses me so much, it is the growing feeling that once again the West will ultimately fail the countries in Central Europe. I fear more and more that we will let Ukraine lose, because of war weariness, national party politics, a news cycle that prioritises the tragedy of Gaza, and a lack of enough military production capacity. Urgently needed financial help for Ukraine is being held up in possibly the most ineffective House of Representatives in my time by a leadership so in thrall to the probable Republican candidate. The Speaker won’t even bring the bill to the floor of the House, despite knowing it would pass, but that could be seen as a victory for Biden so he won’t do it.

And of course, we now have squabbles over money in NATO, undermining any pretence at Western unity. Even here Trump is misleading us all, if not actually lying. It’s not just Europe that has failed to keep up military expenditure, it is the USA too.  While I agree that NATO members have to show America that they are serious about taking on more responsibility for their defence, it is worth looking at the US’s own trends in defence expenditures.

America, which under Ronald Reagan spent about 6 per cent of GDP on its military, bankrupting and eventually bringing down a Soviet Union that could not keep up, now spends just 3.5 per cent to meet its Nato commitment, arm its Indo-Pacific partners, and defend its trade routes and global supply lines. Government revenues this fiscal year will increase by $23.9 billion, just short of 5 per cent. But military spending, adjusted for inflation, remains at last year’s inadequate level, and claims a smaller share of the budget than interest payments on the debt. In other words America already spends more paying the interest on its debt than it does on defence, and some politicians would be mightily tempted to shrink the military even more to meet the rising interest burden. I am no fan of the Heritage Foundation in any way at all but it produces a quite informative annual index of military strength. Its tenth report is interesting… “The current US military force is at significant risk of being unable to meet the demands of a single major regional conflict while also attending to various [military] presence and engagement activities.” Trump and other conservatives continually decry European declines in military spending, but will never acknowledge their own.

Putting more money into defence would sadly entail higher taxes, cuts to public spending or additional borrowing at a time of higher interest rates. At the Munich Security conference Evika Selina, Prime Minister of Latvia,  said this required political leaders to be frank with their electorates about the need to accept changes, although some larger NATO states could afford to put more funding into their armed forces without “such big sacrifices”.   Last month Estonia added 2 percentage points to its VAT and income tax rates to raise its military budget to 3.2 per cent of GDP. Latvia has also recently unveiled higher taxes on lenders and certain categories of imports as it aims to spend 3 per cent of GDP on defence by 2027. Other front-line states are making similar tax/spending adjustments. I don’t see the same sort of willingness in other major NATO nations to accept that increased military capacity means higher revenue or cuts in other expenditure.

We Baltics are making these sacrifices,” Silina said. “[we have to ]explain to people how important it is to be secure and to be strong, because there are some countries outside Europe, outside NATO, that will [only] understand the language of strength, not the language of diplomacy…They will need to see us as a strong Europe, a strong NATO, not only on paper but also in reality, in its military capabilities.” I believe she is entirely correct, but I doubt that many will listen. Hence my depression and concern.

((I gratefully acknowledge sources for some of the above factual statements, Irwin Stelzer, Evika Salina, and the Times of London.))


I have been surprised at how much coverage of the death of Queen Elizabeth has had here in Sweden given that we are at the end of a very intense election campaign. The Swedish King is her 4th cousin but every politician has been commenting, and I have had people who know I am UK born talk to me to say how sorry they feel.

Regardless of how one feels about monarchy v another system, there seems to me to be no doubt that she was an extraordinary woman whose life deserves to be respected and even celebrated.

For what it is worth, I do not like how much potential power still resides in the UK monarch. We have a hereditary monarchy in Sweden too (descended from a Marshal of Napoleon) but all powers have been removed from the Crown long ago.

The King serves as a figurehead for ceremonials (e.g, presiding at the Nobel awards) and charity patronage. That is pretty much all. But there is apparently still some sort of national role sometimes – Swedish friends have told me of how the King seemed to unite the nation and lead its mourning after the traumatic events of the Estonia’s sinking (1994) and the very high Swedish mortality (543) after the 2004 tsunami in Asia.

Perhaps this is a reasonable long term future for a constitutional monarchy in the UK as well?

September 5 2022 : DIFFERENT ELECTIONS

At the time of writing the Swedish General Election is one week away, while in the UK the results of the Tory leader/PM election will be announced on Tuesday. The two events started me thinking about the differences I see between the two countries, their systems, and even their current standings in the world. Both countries are usually described as ‘liberal democracies’ but the differences are huge.

The most obvious current difference is the very nature of the election of the country’s next leader. In Sweden, a system of PR will choose between a coalition of right of centre parties and a similar coalition of left of centre parties. Negotiations between the parties will result in a Prime Minister and government programme. Historically high turnout (87% in the last election) means that most people believe their vote does count.

Contrast that with the election of Ms Liz Truss as the UK’s next Prime Minister. She will have been elected by only about 150,000 Conservative Party members, a majority being white men over 55 years old. And when she does face the wider public at a General Election the ‘first past the post’ voting system means that a large part of the population will feel that their vote is wasted and doesn’t really count. In the 2019 general election the Green Party got 1.2 million votes and only one MP. UKIP got 3.9 million votes and similarly one MP. But of course the two major parties continue to resist any electoral reform that threatens their own grip on power.


I've refrained from writing about the American situation until I felt I could see where politics were going in that country that once seemed to offer so much hope to the cause of liberal democracy, even flawed as it always was. But now it's quite clear that former President Trump will be found Not Guilty in his second impeachment trial and we can also see the shape of the new Biden administration. So, time to express some of my current thoughts - and concerns.

What happened on January 6th was unprecedented in US history. All frenzied rhetoric aside it was an assault on the fundamental structure of a functioning democracy, an attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power. It was inspired, if not incited, by the current President, unable or unwilling to acknowledge his loss of the election. Of course it was never going to succeed; it wouldn't have succeeded even if some of the rumours concerning some extremist discussions of a martial law style coup turn out to be true as the years lay bare the real history. But it could well have launched the country on the road to another civil war, or toward the secession of some States.

It didn't and for that we can be thankful. But the lessons it should have taught politicians seem to be fading fast. The realisation that things had gone too far that was expressed by leaders like Kevin McCarthy and Lindsey Graham after the invasion of the capitol has evaporated. McCarthy went down to Florida to reingratiate himself with Trump. Graham, who after the ‘riot’ said “Trump and I, we've had a hell of a journey. I hate it to end this way. Oh my God, I hate it. From my point of view he's been a consequential president. But today, first thing you'll see. All I can say, is count me out, enough is enough" one week later tweeted “President Trump’s statement tonight hit the mark. He rejected violence, unequivocally condemned those who defiled our Capitol, called for full accountability, and emphasized those who engage in violence tarnish the movement. His speech helps move the country move forward. It is now time for President-elect Biden to rise to the occasion and instruct his party to call off post-presidential impeachment proceedings”.

Senator McConnell has been more consistent, perhaps recognising more clearly that the Republican party stands at the proverbial crossroads. Will it remain the party of Trumpism or can it reform around the traditional conservative values represented by people like Mitt Romney, Susan Collins, and Liz Cheney? It managed to reject right wing extremism once before when it broke with the John Birch Society though people forget or do not know what a struggle it was, even with the support of the leadership, unlike today. As an aside, I thoroughly recommend this article in the Washington Post for those unfamiliar with the struggle against the Birchers: https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/01/29/gop-john-birch-society-trump/?arc404=true

If the Republican centre does not reclaim its party then it will become ever more extreme, with people like Marjory Taylor Green moving from the lunatic fringes to leadership positions. If that happens, I don’t see how the Right will ever win a Presidential election again, IF…

Yes, there is always an “if”. In the case of the USA today, the big ‘if’ is whether President Biden can restrain the extreme wing of his own party, And that’s not a given by any means. The 70 million who voted for Trump are not all extremists by any means, they are conservatives, mostly rural, who feel abandoned and neglected by the urban political establishment. Social conservatives whose fear of attacks on their cultural values was a vein so easily and richly exploited by Trump. A cultural war by an increasingly ‘woke’ (gods how I hate that word) wing of the Democratic party will simply lead to ever greater division between the massive urban socially liberal States on both coasts and the traditional culturally conservative ‘flyover’ States of the interior of the country.

As a historian of the US, I am an optimist about America; it has survived political and cultural crises before, from McCarthyism to the divisions over Vietnam. It even survived the plague of slavery and the war it caused. Despite the still existing and inherent racism in so much of society, life for black Americans is much better than 70 years ago. My fear is that it now faces crises augmented and magnified by a technology of mass communications, something the framers of the Constitution never envisaged. If the leaders of the nation cannot work out how to use social media for the good of society then I truly do fear an increasingly Disunited States of America.

February 1 2021: WINTER'S HERE

In the winter of 2019/2020 I was really disappointed by how little snow we got. Instead from November to March we seemed to have an endless succession of grey damp days. Depressing when there is also little daylight during the darkest months of the year. I was reduced to moaning to anyone who would listen about how dull and depressing it was..."this is like a British winter; one of the things I love about living in Sweden is having four distinct seasons, what's happened to my winter?" Well not this year! OK we only had a smattering of snow on Christmas Day and then that went too and I was beginning to be grumpy again. But then in late January it snowed solidly for about 18 hours and we have had further falls for two days since then Now about 50 cms on the ground and -8 Celsius outside. Bright blue skies and a crispness to the air that I have missed so much. Three cheers for real seasons again.

January 2021: A NATION OR A COUNTRY?

I'm not going to get into the pros and cons of Scottish independence. Even though I was born in Edinburgh and have always supported Scotland in any sporting challenge, I will not have a vote if another referendum comes, nor do I understand the depths of the economic arguments for and against.

What does strike me however is the irony that the UK government that fought so hard for Brexit in the cause of 'sovereignty' rather than any economic argument should now be reliant on the economic argument for Scotland remaining in the Union, totally rejecting (or misunderstanding) the Scots' own desire for 'sovereignty'. A new campaign will be launched by Westminster to attempt to convince the Scots that without the Union, an independent Scotland will fail as a separate country.

The fact that many smaller nations are surviving fine in the EU is irrelevant to the Unionist narrative. A new Project Fear will be trumpeted - just as the Brexiteers claim it was in the EU referendum. In 2016 the economic arguments were disputed, ignored or just plain lied about in favour of an emotional argument for British exceptionalism and identity, in reality an argument for a British nation.

So it's deeply ironic that the Westminster establishment appear unable to comprehend that what is going on North of the Border is exactly the same. The desire for independence is about nationhood, a belief in the Scottish nation, much more than it is about economics. To be Scots is to feel part of a nation, not of a country - as any member of the Scottish diaspora will tell you.


Back in 1992 the Queen referred to her annus horribilis. This year we could all say the same. The pandemic has caused countless misery, changed our lives, and caused more divisions in society as illness and remedies became a tribal issue. Masks were politicised, lockdowns became an assault on personal liberty and debate on which country handled the crisis best became heated, a matter of populism and nationalism. I have a feeling that the long-term effect of Covid-19 on society will be more profound than we can yet foresee.

But as the year ends, there are surely green shoots of hope. Vaccines are becoming available, and the more extreme madnesses of anti-vaxxer propaganda appear to be losing some support. There will inevitably be enquiries into what went wrong and what went right. Hopefully, we will be left with more efficient health services, and better planning and preparation for future global pandemics or other crises. Perhaps most significantly of all, in countries where the elderly will become a higher and higher proportion of the population, our systems of care will be re-examined and improved.

Even in the political sphere, there is some reason to believe things will get better. Right wing nationalism and populism seems to be on the retreat, even in the US where we will soon have a new administration, regardless of the current President’s increasingly futile efforts to hold onto power. Brexit has happened – wrongly in my opinion, but at least the debate is over for now and perhaps the government will turn its attention to keeping some of the promises it made in the last election about levelling up and reducing inequality.

Of course my hopes may be dashed; populism may rise again, the USA may become the Disunited States of America, the United Kingdom may find the Union too strained to survive, tribal hatreds may prove too deep rooted for liberal democracy to survive. But on this last day of 2020 I choose to hope. In fact I hope for a boring year, in which we can all recover our equilibrium again.

My very best wishes for 2021 to all my readers. May we all live long and prosper.


The Brexit debate is finally over for me, until we actually start to see which predictions (if any) actually happen. But it has got me thinking about exceptionalism, so often expressed by Brexiteers in expressions like “now we will see the British lion roar again”.

I think many nations feel themselves to be exceptional in some way or other. The French belief in their superiority of cuisine comes to mind. In a totally different way New Zealand believed for many years that they were the world’s best rugby players by some sort of divine right. Slightly more tongue in cheek, I am not sure if the belief in my adopted home of Sweden that they have the best civil society in the world is a sense of exceptionalism or just a mild smugness. I am sure we can all think of other feelings of exceptionalism, but in nearly every case they are light-hearted or at worst mildly irritating.

What worries me is when a sense of exceptionalism has a profound effect on a society, especially when founded on a rose-tinted view of the past. And I fear that is the case with the UK today. There seems to me to be in many parts of British society a sense that Britannia still rules the waves, that if only other people would stop being difficult and just do what we say, or at least leave us alone we will triumph and take our rightful place at the top of the table again. So every new initiative will be ‘world beating’, Turing will be much better than Erasmus, two aircraft carriers will make the RN mighty again, and so on.

Sadly, this is not the case in my opinion. The UK is a medium sized power still recovering from the retreat from imperial glory. Still the world’s 5th or maybe 6th biggest economy, but a country that has allowed so many of its own scientific breakthroughs to be exploited by other nations. Still a nuclear power but at a cost that cripples conventional defence budgets. A nation that believes that football is somehow uniquely an English sport, so much so that we still glory in winning the World Cup once, 54 years ago! A nation that was once admired for its belief in the rule of law that is now prepared to break international law if it wants to, albeit in a “limited and specific way”. A major trading nation still but willing to retreat from its biggest market because we believe we can always do better on our own.

We seem to think that we won World War Two on our own, and that Dunkirk was a victory rather than an escape from disaster. I hear far too often people extolling the Dunkirk victory and the ‘spirit of the Blitz’ as reasons why Britain will triumph with its regained sovereignty. I hope they are right, but I fear they are not. The sense of exceptionalism is a myth, and I fear a dangerous one at that.


I have a German/Swedish friend on Facebook, an inveterate poster, largely on politics and the law. He is an academic lawyer so it's very rare for me to comment on his legal postings. But on politics I do, since our views are fairly different. However our disagreements are always polite, ocaasionally even humorous. Lately however I have noticed that more and more posters on his wall are becoming less temperate in their language, frustrating and annoying him and most of his friends. 

This got me to thinking about language in politics. When I was younger political debate was just as intense as it is today, remembering issues such as Suez, Greenham Common, Vietnam, etc. etc. While language on the streets could get pretty nasty, debate in the media at least retained a modicum of courtesy and tolerance for contrary but sincerely held views.  How very sad to see the levels of personal abuse resorted to these days by so many, on both sides of any particular issue. 

This is common not just on Facebook and Twitter but also in comments sections in the online editions of national papers, where many posters should quite simply be ashamed of themselves; one reason no doubt why they use pseudonyms. It is not by chance that in most Western democracies you cannot use such abusive laguage in Parliament, so why use it in the media? Shouting abuse is never going to persuade.



One of the Brexit arguments that has always concerned me is about 'reclaiming our sovereignty'. Sovereignty is defined as "the full right and power of a governing body over itself, without any interference from outside sources or bodies. In political theory, sovereignty is a substantive term designating supreme legitimate authority over some polity". But every international agreement a nation signs up to involves some giving up of that 'supreme legitimate authority' and always has. To say that Brexit means reclaiming sovereignty implies that the UK did not have it anyway.

Yet the EU has never denied the sovereignty of member states: To quote the Jean Monnet Center for International and Regional Economic Law and Justice back in 2000 "The EU is based on co-operation among sovereign states. They are all members of the United Nations and they possess sole competence to shape the treaties that the EU is based on. Transferring competences to European level does not mean giving up the claim of the individual Member States to sovereignty, but the willingness to exercise sovereign rights in an associative system". 

Or in 2002 the Commission in a commentary on the CFP "the Member States must take the inspection and enforcement measures necessary to ensure compliance with the rules of the common fisheries policy on their territory or in the waters subject to their sovereignty or jurisdiction" (my emphasis)

But my most personal example of retaining national sovereignty relates to snus, a particularly Scandinavian form of oral tobacco, accounting for roughly half of tobacco consumption in Sweden. Regardless of the arguments as to whether snus is less dangerous than smoking tobacco or not, the fact remains that Sweden has exercised its sovereignty in continuing to allow the sale of snus in the country, despite an EU ban. Sweden's exemption came as a result of protracted and intense negotiation, implicit in which was the country's sovereign right to make its own law concerning tobacco consumption and indeed public health.

I draw two conclusions from this thinking. Firstly, a country can get its own way without leaving the EU if they negotiate properly. Second, that UK Brexiteers have used 'sovereignty' as a slogan, not based on any fact or history.

December 3 : 7,000 DEATHS AND RISING

By the end of this week 7,000 people will have died from or with Covid in Sweden. That is 65.3 fatalities per 100,000, compared with 87.4 in the UK and 95.2 in Spain, but only 19.5 in Germany and 14.3 in Denmark. In other words diffent countries are having different rates of success in containing this disease.

What makes it worth writing about for me is (a) that Sweden has taken a different approach to the health crisis to nearly every other European nation and (b) there are no signs yet that the rates of infection, hospitalisation and ultimately death are declining in Sweden.

I believe, and have said since the start of this pandemic, that it will be years (if ever) before we can accurately say which approach was right and which was wrong. It will take a long time before we can assess the final economic outcome, the mental health and resilience of the nation, and the levels of excess death. 

Up until late summer, I seemed to read or hear every day, critics in the UK condemning their own government's strategy of lockdowns as an infringement of their most fundamental human rights. Strange since I never really thought of being able to go to the pub whenever you wanted as a foundation stone of British liberties.

But each to their own; what got to me was their continuous references to the Swedish strategy as being one of liberty and non interference. For a start it showed a dreadful ignorance of Swedish demographics, comparing a nation of around 10 million with a population density of 25 P/sqkm to a nation of nearly 68 million and density of 281P/sqkm. More importantly, the critics seemed to think that Swedes were not resticted in any way, which was simply not true. From the beginning we had similar exhortations on social distancing, working from home, restricted numbers at social gatherings etc. The prime difference was not that the thoughts on containing the virus were different. The key difference was that the population was trusted to follow the recommendations without them having to be enforced. And for a time it worked.  

After the initial wave (and a similar scandal in care homes to the UK) cases dropped rapidly and thoughout the Spring and Summer they stayed low.  But in the autumn things changed, and cases are now rising rapidly as Winter begins to bite.

Personally I believe there are three reasons. The end of summer meant more indoor life, more testing revealed more cases than anticipated, and people got complacent. Now government has had to tighten up and even introduce some rules rather than recommendations. It's too early to say how successful the new strictures will be, but one thing has changed -  the UK libertarian critics (or Covidiots as I might descibe them in less polite language) seem to have stopped holding Sweden up as a shining example of doing things right. For that one change I am profoundly grateful.