Greens ‘spokesperson’ takes control

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Rasmus Hansson created a stir when he threatened to step down as leader of Norway’s Greens Party (Miljøpartiet De Grønne, MDG) at its annual meeting last weekend, if he didn’t get the fellow “spokesperson” of his choice. It was an admittedly brutal power play, but he got his way, and now Hansson is firming his grip on power.

The Greens' new leadership duo are viewed as realists rather than fundamentalists, and keen to even more voter support in the national elections next year. PHOTO: Miljøpartiet De Grønne

The Greens’ new leadership duo are viewed as realists rather than fundamentalists, and keen to even more voter support in the national elections next year. PHOTO: Miljøpartiet De Grønne

Hansson apologized for the power play and promised his party colleagues at the end of the turbulent meeting that “something like this won’t happen again.” He also conceded in a closing speech that delegates to the party’s annual meeting should have had more time to digest his ultimatum that Une Aina Bastholm be elected as the party’s female “spokesperson.” As a matter of principle, the party avoids the use of the term “party leader.” They prefer to believe that they lead collectively.

There’s little question, though, that the charismatic Hansson is the driving force behind the party and its huge success in the municipal elections last fall. The Greens won enough votes to become part of Oslo’s city government and also had strong showings elsewhere around the country. On a national basis, the Greens won representation in Parliament for the first time in 2013, with Hansson, who formerly head the environmental organization WWF, becoming its first-ever Member of Parliament.

Now he’s set his sights on next year’s national election campaign. “We want power in 2017,” both he and Bastholm said in their first joint interview with newspaper Dagsavisen on Thursday. They intend to use the next year to “mature” as a party, and they may even cast aside some of their most radical policy proposals, like allowing public cultivation and sale of hash. The Greens also need to build a more professional organization: Failure to read through state regulations and meet some deadlines, for example, left at least one local chapter missing out on receipt of hundreds of thousands of kroner in public funding.

Getting serious
It’s simply time, it appears, for the Greens to get serious. The turbulent annual meeting may be the first sign that they’re become more like other political parties, for better or worse, with personality conflicts overshadowing politics. Hansson made it clear he didn’t work well with his former fellow “spokesperson,” Hilde Opoku and he wanted a change. Bastholm was thus voted in, but not without more signs of discontent among party members, nearly a third of whom handed in blank ballots instead of voting for Hansson himself. Opoku, meanwhile, felt forced to resign, publicly blasted Hansson’s leadership style and supported Bastholm’s opposing candidate for the post.

“It tends to be a good idea to reach out a hand when you get criticized,” Hansson said after the meeting ended. “I have always insisted that I do that, and I will continue to do so.” He also promised to “listen” to fellow party members, including those who didn’t vote for him.

Mostly, he and Bastholm now want to build a better “organizational culture.” He thinks he and Bastholm, who has served as Hansson’s political adviser at the Parliament, will work well together, develop the party’s platform and mobilize voters. As newspaper Aftenposten wrote on Thursday, they represent the “realists” as opposed to the “fundamentalists” within the party. “We’re going to go out and steal voters,” he claimed, and was met by a standing ovation when the meeting closed on Sunday. Bastholm dismissed the meeting’s turbulence as “natural,” expects the party to come together again and she will continue to be Hansson’s alternate MP.

Growing pains
A few days later, after the dust had settled, he and Bastholm told Dagsavisen that the party basically has had some growing pains. Now its new leader duo is ambitious and points to its powerful position in Oslo, where it’s literally rolling out new policies that have been grabbing plenty of attention. While some of them (like removing parking places on city streets in favour of creating new bike lanes, or limiting their useage) have cost some voter support, Hansson said he wants to keep making other parties green with envy over their ability to implement policy.

He and Bastholm also made it clear they’re ready to work with other parties in their drive for influence. Both Labour and the Conservatives, which currently leads Norway’s minority government coalition, are viewed as the Greens’ main rivals. Hansson, who often doesn’t see much difference between Norway’s two biggest parties and arch-rivals, vowed to “challenge and change” both of them. He added that the Greens can cooperate with both of them, if they deliver on policy. While the Greens share government power with Labour in Oslo, they cooperate with the Conservatives in Moss.

“Our goal is to reach out more voters, and give them the biggest possible breakthrough on a real shift to a greener economy,” Bastholm told Dagsavisen. “Then we’ll see whether it leads us into a government coalition, into a position as a support party, or in an independent role in Parliament. We haven’t landed on a final strategy yet.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund