Stoltenberg fends off harsh criticism

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One of Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s former cabinet ministers in an earlier government he led has unleashed a political broadside against her former boss. Karita Bekkemellem has written a book accusing Stoltenberg of being cowardly, weak and a poor leader. He merely wishes her well.

Bekkemellem was asked to resign in 2007 as Stoltenberg’s cabinet minister in charge of children’s and equality issues. She doesn’t think she was treated fairly, and blames both Stoltenberg and what she describes as a culture of envy and jealousy within the Norwegian Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet) .

Her new autobiography, released this week, traces her life from a troubled childhood with an alcoholic father to her days in fancy dresses attending banquets at the Royal Palace during her political career. Bekkemellem spent five terms as a Member of Parliament for Labour from the county of Møre og Romsdal and served in three ministerial posts.

It all came to an abrupt halt in October 2007 when she was replaced as cabinet minister. According to Bekkemellem, she didn’t receive any clear messages from Stoltenberg who instead dragged out a period of uncertainty regarding her post until he finally sent a state secretary to her office with word of her fate.

“He used a messenger,” Bekkemellem writes. “I thought it was ridiculous, cowardly and weak.” She also accused Stoltenberg of being distant during crisis situations, and cowardly then as well.She wrote that one fellow minister regularly fell asleep during meetings of Stoltenberg’s first government, in 2000-2001, and that Stoltenberg failed to follow up on the problem.

“Jens Stoltenberg is a warm person, but he doesn’t always manage to show it,” she wrote. “Even though he’d like to be a good boss, he is easily unclear and distant.”

Bekkemellem, who now heads an industry trade group and appears on a local TV talk show, also accused other Labour Party colleagues of being envious and nurturing a culture where people talked behind other’s backs. She said she often received warmer welcomes at Parliament from politicians in other parties than from her own. She claimed the new deputy leader of the party, Helga Pedersen, refused to greet her, something Pedersen denies.

Bekkemellem, who also writes candidly that she received death threats during her political career and once tried to take her own life, has herself been the target of criticism over her book. A string of political pundits suggests she should have kept her own criticism to herself, instead of hurling out a bunch of sour grapes now.

Stoltenberg wasn’t eager to comment on the book, nor to go into the reasons he had for dismissing Bekkemellem two years ago. He did say, however, that Bekkemellem had given him a copy of her book and that he intended to read it.

“I don’t want to take part in any debate over internal processes in the Labour Party or the government,” he told newspaper Aftenposten . “But I do want to say that Karita has given a lot to Norwegian politics and I wish her all the best.”