NEWS ANALYSIS: Some commentators claim that Norway’s Labour Party is in its worst crisis since World War II, but party leaders put on broad smiles when gathering Tuesday to mark Labour’s 125th anniversary. Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg made it clear he’s neither backing away from criticism nor bowing out.
The party’s anniversary date fell just a week after the release of a stinging report, ordered by Stoltenberg himself, on the state’s lack of preparedness for emergencies like last year’s terrorist attacks. The anniversary, which party officials didn’t want to ignore, also landed just days before a verdict in the state’s case against confessed terrorist Anders Behring Breivik will be handed down on Friday.
The timing of a major party for the party that Breivik attacked was thus awkward in some ways, since it had to be held in the shadow of the terrorist’s bombing, the massacre he carried out and their aftermath. Stoltenberg and his colleagues, who have mourned their dead for the past year, chose to seize the anniversary as an opportunity to hail the progress they claim their party has made over the years, and as a pep rally ahead of next year’s national elections.
Stoltenberg & Co will be running for re-election for the second time. Political commentators including Arne Strand in Dagsavisen are quick to point out that prior to the Stoltenberg-led coalition government’s re-election in 2009, no sitting government had managed the same since 1985. Winning a third term would be an historic accomplishment.
Given the lengthy standing ovation Stoltenberg received from party faithful when he mounted the podium at Tuesday’s party, Labour is keen to take on the challenge with Stoltenberg as their leader. While the two other parties forming the current coalition have lost voters according to recent public opinion polls, Labour has remained stable at around 30 percent. The polls indicate that voter support for the conservative bloc in opposition in Parliament is bigger at present, but it remains questionable whether voters will be as keen for a change of government next September as they seem now.
Meanwhile, Stoltenberg delivered a powerful speech to bolster his troops and shook off references to crisis. He once again acknowledged the scathing criticism of, for example, state police operations in the July 22 Commission’s report, and repeated promises of comprehensive and rapid improvements. He has no intention of heeding calls in some newspapers for his resignation over the police ineptitude and his government’s alleged failure to protect the Norwegian people. He clearly prefers to heed other opinions, including those that a resignation would give the terrorist who attacked Labour what he wanted.
Mostly Stoltenberg was on the political offensive, stressing that Labour cooperates with other parties and has been the driving force in the creation of Norway’s social welfare state. So were other party leaders including the near-legendary multiple-term former prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, who also addressed the crowd of around 400 hundred and won ovations herself. Eskil Pedersen, head of the party’s youth organization AUF that was targeted in the terrorist’s massacre last summer, represented the next generation, noting that the attacks of July 22 “changed us forever,” but that it “won’t be a story about a victory of evil over us, but about our triumph over hate.”
Finance Minister Sigbjørn Johnsen, a popular and folksey party veteran, didn’t dwell on the terrorist attacks as he summed up the party’s 125-year history in Norway. Other party officials delivered rousing pep talks and Labour had also hired in Norwegian comedian and musician Ingrid Bjørnhov, to provide comic relief and laughter along the way.
The mood was upbeat after a year of trauma and an often-interrupted summer recess. Now the work resumes of running the state and running for re-election. Stoltenberg’s message was that he’s ready for the race.
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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