Prime Minister of Sweden 1969–76, 1982–6
Born in Stockholm into a wealthy family, he studied at Kenyon College, Ohio, and then read law at Stockholm University. As chairman of the National Union of Students (1952–3), he attracted the attention of the Social Democratic Party hierarchy, and in 1953 he became personal secretary to Erlander. Palme became a member of the Riksdag (parliament) in 1956, and quickly rose through his ministerial appointments, as Minister without Portfolio (1963–5), Minister of Transport (1965), and Minister of Education (1967), until he succeeded Erlander as Prime Minister.
As Sweden was already one of the most affluent societies in the world, he saw his main task as reducing the inequalities with which that affluence was shared. He introduced comprehensive education, women's emancipation legislation, and reforms in higher education. However, in a country already tired of high taxation and state intervention, his policies increased the regulatory role of the state even further.
From 1973, Palme had to rule with a minority government. Discontent at the way in which excessive taxation and state regulation appeared to stifle the economy was heightened in the wake of the 1973 oil‐price shock. Palme was unable to find answers to the economic crisis, and for the first time in Sweden's history, a right‐wing coalition formed the government in 1976. Palme returned at the head of another minority government in 1982. As a firm adherent to Sweden's neutrality, Palme won international respect as a committed supporter of decolonization and anti‐imperialism, of poorer countries in general, and of disarmament. Thus, despite his holding the office of Prime Minister, he did not hesitate to participate in demonstrations against the Vietnam War, to Nixon's great irritation. He was murdered under mysterious circumstances; the assassin has never been found.
Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945) — Politics.