The Socialist Left fights for its life

Bookmark and Share

Norway’s once-influential Socialist Left party (Sosialistisk Venstreparti, SV) was badly beaten in the last national election and is now merely a shadow of its former self in public opinion polls. Its leader Audun Lysbakken is nonetheless vowing to come back fighting as the party gathers for its annual national meeting this weekend.

Audun Lysbakken desperately needs to revive the fortunes of the Socialist Left party he leads, if the party is to retain representation in Parliament. Voter support has fallen by more than half just since the election in 2009, when Lysbaken already was facing voter flight. PHOTO: Sosialistisk venstreparti

Audun Lysbakken desperately needs to revive the fortunes of the Socialist Left party he leads, if the party is to retain representation in Parliament. Voter support has fallen by more than half just since the election in 2009, when Lysbaken already was facing voter flight. PHOTO: Sosialistisk venstreparti

The party only holds 3 percent of the vote in the latest poll conducted by research firm Respons for newspaper Aftenposten. “These are bad numbers,” Lysbakken candidly admitted when presented with the poll that was publicly released on Friday. Others call them “crisis” figures and claim SV has fallen deeply into the shadow of its former government partner, the Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet), which jumped to 42.1 percent of the vote in the same poll.

Lysbakken was already resorting to fiery rhetoric, even before he takes the podium at the meeting that was opening Friday at a hotel near Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen. He claimed on national radio Friday morning, during NRK’s daily live political debate program Politisk kvarter, that he “won’t run after public opinion polls” nor would he promise to support Labour in “anything at all, apart from throwing Erna Solberg out of the prime minister’s seat.”

Lost its steam while in government itself
SV, after years in opposition and a powerful role as a party big enough to swing the vote in Parliament on various issues, lost much of its steam when it actually won a spot in the former left-center government led by Labour. Analysts and commentators claimed SV simply had to compromise on far too many issues for the sake of government unity. The 8.8 percent of the vote SV won in 2005, which first ushered the party into government, fell to 6.1 percent at the next election and finally to just 4.1 percent at the most recent election in 2013. Even though Labour remained the largest party in the land, its coalition with SV and the Center Party fell apart when both SV and the Center Party lost voters.

Some had thought SV would revive, once it was back in opposition, but instead its position has slipped even further. Lysbakken remains optimistic and is working hard to restore SV’s image as a free and independent party that’s not supposed to compromise on its platform or goals.

Mistakes listed in new book
In his own analysis of what’s gone wrong for Lysbakken, he rattled off three major mistakes when he released a new book earlier this week entitled Frihet sammen (literally, Freedom together); SV failed to set clear priorities, it was not good at following through on its campaign promises with concrete measures, and it didn’t make enough demands of its government partners before the election of 2009, when the coalition was re-elected. SV was clear in its opposition to oil exploration off Lofoten, and that helped stop Labour from allowing it, but it didn’t push hard enough for more funding for more teachers and more demands for equal pay.

The book itself attracted some badly needed publicity for Lysbakken and SV, and gave a preview of his strategy heading into the national meeting. He doesn’t like the idea of Labour winning enough support to govern alone, but he said he would support Labour’s leader Jonas Gahr Støre’s effort to replace Solberg as prime minister. Lysbakken unveiled some surprising new overtures towards the Christian Democrats, a traditional opponent on the center right. He wrote about “a new form of socialism for a new era” without detailing it, and argued for “a more systematic environmental debate” along with more staffing in nursing homes and schools. On Friday he also called for a “new, honest debate” over Norway’s economic agreement with the EU, the-called EØS-avtale that at least one labour federation wants to scrap as do the most anti-EU factions in Norway, including SV.

Internal power struggle as well
This weekend, Lysbakken would also need to preside over an internal party power struggle between its own “left and right” factions, manifested in the campaign over who would take over the powerful position of party secretary. Both Kari Kaski on the “right” and Ingrid Fiskaa on SV’s “left” were listed as candidates to replace Silje Schei Tveitdal, who resigned after six years as party secretary. Newspaper Dagsavisen has written that if Fiskaa wins, she may take SV farther to the left than even Lysbakken might propose. Kaski, who comes from the environmental group ZERO, was backed by those clamouring for SV to revive its environmental profile.

There was little doubt the party desperately needs to rally its forces if it’s to even maintain representation in Parliament. Again, Lysbakken was optimistic and claimed to be fit for fight. “For me,” he said at his book launch on Tuesday, “the book and the meeting mark the end of an idea- and thought process I’ve been through, and the beginning of a new phase towards the (next national) election in 2017.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund