A new book written by a former Labour Party minister, and timed for release at the height of the current election campaign, harshly criticizes her former Labour colleagues. Ex-minister Grete Knudsen describes Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, for example, as “conflict shy” and lacking ability to tackle problems, while top Labour officials claim ex-minister Grete Knudsen “can only have evil intentions.”
Knudsen is releasing her book, entitled Basketak (which roughly translates to “scuffle” or “struggle”), just four weeks before Stoltenberg is to seek re-election to a third consecutive term at the September 9 election. Labour Party members had been bracing for the book for months, which amounts to an autobiography in which Knudsen seems keen on dredging up old party conflicts from the 1990s.
Knudsen, who served in the cabinets of both Gro Harlem Brundtland, Thorbjørn Jagland and in Stoltenberg’s first government, is from the left side of the Labour Party while Stoltenberg is widely viewed as being from the right or at least moderate side. Knudsen goes so far as to accuse Stoltenberg’s trusted fellow minister Jonas Gahr Støre, who lacks a working class background, as unfit to be a Labour Party member. She also calls Støre a “solo player” during EU negotiations in 1994 who “acted like a minister in Brussels” and overstretched his bounds while still a bureaucrat in Brundtland’s office.
Knudsen, now age 72 and long inactive in the party, seems intent on gaining revenge for perceived injustices during her terms in ministerial posts. Her local newspaper Bergens Tidende writes that Knudsen felt her boss Brundtland never gave her advice and “never liked me.” Knudsen doesn’t think she would have become a minister if it hadn’t been for the prodding from the head of trade union confederation LO at the time, Yngve Hågensen, Jagland and the late Einar Førde, a veteran Labour politician who eventually was named to lead Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). Førde is one of the few to get good reviews from Knudsen,even though she writes that he once threw up on her stairs after a party.
The former government minister claims Brundtland was “conspiratorial,” that current Defense Minister Grete Faremo doesn’t speak truthfully and that Stoltenberg is not a good leader. She thinks current Labour Trade Minister Trond Giske, also from Labour’s left side, would make a far better party leader and prime minister than Stoltenberg.
Knudsen herself wouldn’t comment on the book prior to a press conference set for Wednesday, so her motives weren’t yet clear.
Her book already has prompted strong reaction from Labour Party officials. “When a person like Grete Knudsen, who was granted so many high positions of trust, comes out with a book like this, right in the middle of the election campaign, she can only have evil intentions,” former Labour Party secretary Martin Kolberg, now a Member of Parliament, told NRK. “The book says more about Grete Knudsen than it does about the Norwegian Labour Party.”
Faremo sent a short e-mail to Bergens Tidende, in which she wrote that “Knudsen knows she’s putting forth claims that aren’t correct and are not rooted in reality.”
Støre seemed to laugh off the book, telling NRK that he hadn’t had any contact with Knudsen for 10 years and doesn’t plan “to use any effort on a debate over yesterday with Grete Knudsen.”
Nor did Knudsen get any support from a Labour Party veteran known for representing the left side of politics, Thorbjørn Berntsen. “It’s very disappointing that she’s stirring together hurtful and mean commentaries on people she’s worked with,” the 78-year-old Berntsen, also a former minister, told VG Nett. “She could have at least waited until after the election. I have had great respect for Knudsen, but I don’t understand her need to come out with a book like this. It’s bad for everyone.” He added that he thinks Stoltenberg has been a good leader “with social antennae,” and that Støre also has done a “very good job,” not least as Norway’s high-profile foreign minister for many years.
Stoltenberg, meanwhile, declined comment because he hadn’t read the book. He said he couldn’t remember the last time he met Knudsen.