Liberals struggle with internal split

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Liberal Party leader Trine Skei Grande is being pulled in different directions, by those who think her party should join a new conservative government that Prime Minister Erna Solberg wants to form, and by those who think the party should move into opposition. The mixed signals are coming not only from outside her party, but from inside as well.

Liberal Party leader Trine Skei Grande needs to interpret promises made here at her party’s national meeting spring with pragmatic opportunities for power. PHOTO: Venstre

“Go into the government,” editorialized newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) shortly after last week’s election that left the Liberals with just 4.4 percent of the vote but enough with the other three non-socialist parties to form a majority. Solberg wants both the Liberals and the Christian Democrats, with just 4.2 percent of the vote, to join her Conservatives and the even more conservative Progress Party in a new four-party government coalition.

That’s the best way, many argue, for both small non-socialist parties to exert influence. They would have better chances as government partners to both shape and carry out policies, not least in the areas of climate, the environment and immigration that are important to both of them. Both Solberg and Progress Party boss Siv Jensen will likely be eager to cooperate, for the sake of government unity and keeping the left-center parties at bay.

Environmental lobby argues for joining government
Leaders of major environmental organizations including both Greenpeace and Zero are also asking the Liberals and Christian Democrats to join a non-socialist government, purely to secure better climate and environmental policies. With both of them in the government, they’d likely be able to keep Lofoten and other scenic areas of Northern Norway free of oil and gas exploration off their coastlines. Venstre and the Christian Democrats also are skeptical of more oil exploration in the Arctic.

“I think it will be possible for the Liberals and Christian Democrats to secure better environmental policies if they go into the governement than if they don’t,” Greenpeace leader Truls Gulowsen told DN. If both go into opposition, Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre has already claimed that Labour would support a proposal from the Conservatives and Progress to open up the waters off Lofoten at least to a study of oil drilling. That could leave all the small, pro-environment parties out in the cold.

Several top business leaders including climate advocate Jens Ulltveit-Moe also are calling on both small non-socialist parties to join the governement. Even Christen Sveaas and Peter Anker, both with backgrounds in the oil and shipping branches, think it would be the best way for the non-socialists to retain control. Business man Ola Mæle agrees.

Internal division
But Grande faces a split within her party’s membership. While she and other top party officials see advantages of joining the government, several of their county leaders and mayors object because they don’t want to rule with the Progress Party.  Like many in the Christian Democrats, they simply feel their politics are too different to rule together.

“I went helt numb when I heard the party may sit in a government with Progress,” Ingebjørg Winjum, the Liberals’ mayor of Granvin in Hordaland, told state broadcaster NRK on Tuesday. Some Liberals are even threatening to withdraw from the party if they rule with Progress. They claim the Liberals decided at their national meeting last spring that they would only go into a government with the Conservatives and Christian Democrats, not with Progress. Unfortunately for them, however, Progress won far more votes than they did and is unlikely to release its own grip on government power.

Grande is left to make a decision, and it may be more pragmatic than principled. The deciding factor will be how her party can best wield power and influence with just 4.4 percent of the vote, and protecting Lofoten is high on the agenda. Talks with the Conservatives are due to begin on Thursday.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund