Labour’s ‘crisis’ is now its own

NEWS ANALYSIS: Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre has based much of his campaign to topple Norway’s conservative government coalition on claims that the country is in economic “crisis.” Now he and his party, foiled by the country’s economic recovery, are facing more terrible poll results and having to team up with the Greens Party after all, in order to have any chance of forming their own government.

Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre, shown here facing off against Prime Minister Erna Solberg in Parliament just before the summer holidays, was hit by another rash of negative poll results this week. The economic crisis on which Labour based its election campaign has been averted, meaning Støre has lost a major issue to complain about and a source of ammunition against Solberg’s government. PHOTO: Stortinget

New polls released Wednesday by both newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) and state broadcaster NRK show more dismal results for both Støre and Labour. DN‘s poll, conducted by Sentio Research Norge, had Labour down at just 27 percent of the vote, while the Greens Party, which wants to phase out the oil industry to cut carbon emissions, shot up to a record-high 6.6 percent. Støre has earlier refused to cooperate with the Greens, because the Greens demand a halt to all new oil exploration. Labour, in line with their rivals on the conservative side, views the oil business as a critical source of job creation in Norway.

Now signs are stronger than ever that Støre, who’s been criticized for refusing to accept support from the Greens because of its ultimatum on oil exploration, may need to reconsider. While both his party and his potential government partner, the Center Party, fell in DN‘s poll, all four of the non-socialist parties that have backed the incumbent Conservatives-led government coalition gained voters. The non-socialist parties fell in NRK’s poll while Labour and Center rose, but not enough to form a majority.

Still no majority on either side
Neither the left-center nor the right-center blocs have a majority at present, strengthening the Greens’ independent role in the upcoming election. If its rise in voter support converts into election results, the Greens will win seven new seats in Parliament in addition to the one held by its co-leader Rasmus Hansson, and its support will likely needed by whichever bloc tries to form a government.

Hansson calls it all “a fantastic opportunity” for Labour to prove itself as climate-conscious and future-oriented. He’s not backing down on the Greens’ demand that they won’t support any government that doesn’t halt oil exploration as the first step in a long-term plan to end the Norwegian economy’s reliance on fossil fuels.

There’s no denying that Norway’s economic upturn, ironically based in part on higher oil prices since they collapsed in 2014, is behind the downturn for Labour. It tried to score on rising unemployment numbers in 2015 and 2016 and even went so far as to claim that the current government’s term in office has represented “four lost years.” Finance Minister Siv Jensen scoffed at that on Wednesday, noting in an interview with newspaper Aftenposten how the new unemployment figures for July represent the eighth month in a row of decline and also in all counties, including those on the West Coast that were hardest hit by the oil price collapse. A new survey by Norway’s trade association for the banking and finance industry, Finans Norge, showed that optimism also has returned in all counties nationwide.

That dashes Støre’s attempt to find fault with how the current government has handled the economic downturn that did indeed follow the oil price collapse. The alleged “crisis” is over, and DN‘s political commentator Kjetil B Alstadheim cited other reasons for Labour’s decline in voter support: Støre’s attempt to instead seize on a decline in the overall numbers of employed Norwegians has been difficult to explain, and that decline is reversing as well.

Too cozy with the Center Party
Alstadheim claimed that Støre was also too quick to embrace the Center Party as a partner and adopt some of its rhetoric against centralization and government reforms. “When Labour tries to be Center, voters can simply choose the original,” Alstadheim wrote in DN, adding that Labour has also lost voters to both the Greens, the Socialist Left (SV) and even the far-left Reds.

At the same time, the current Conservatives-led coalition hasn’t been as conservative as many voters expected. It’s been dragged more towards the center by its centrist support parties, the Christian Democrats and the Liberals.  Both have since said they will no longer support a government coalition that includes the Progress Party, but Prime Minister Erna Solberg remains confident they can find common ground once again.

With three weeks left until Election Day on September 11, both sides still need to build a majority, while Labour remains larger than the Conservatives in both new polls. Commentators are bracing for an “election thriller,” and potential chaos when the nine parties involved are forced to team up in one form or another.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund