Liberal party head bows out

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Lars Sponheim, the head of the Liberal Party (Venstre) who kept a high profile in Norwegian media, officially stepped down at the party’s meeting over the weekend. His departure came just as a new unauthorized biography of Sponheim was making waves.

Lars Sponheim in happier days. PHOTO: Venstre

For the past 17 years it’s been Sponheim who seemed to like making the waves. He headed a small party that, because of its centrist platform, seemed to wield power entirely out of proportion to its support among voters. Sponheim himself was viewed by many as a power monger, enjoying government ministerial posts even though Venstre only had around 5 percent of the vote, because his support or lack thereof could make or break government coalitions.

Last fall, it all fell apart for Sponheim. Venstre won so little support in the national election that it lost all but two of its 10 seats in Parliament and Sponheim felt forced to resign as party leader. He since has returned to his sheep ranch in western Norway, got appointed to a seat on the state lottery board and hopes to be appointed the head of country government for Hordaland.

It now suddenly seems doubtful that he’ll get his wish. The new book by two journalists for newspaper Bergens Tidende details his power plays of the years, his many conflicts with persons both within and outside his party, his at times “brutal” treatment of party colleagues and even allegations that government colleagues tried to keep him out of the loop on some issues, fearing he’d leak sensitive information to the media.

Sponheim was “a ticking time bomb” within the right-center government coalition headed by Kjell Magne Bondevik of the Christian Democrats, co-author Olav Garvik told newspaper Aftenposten. “It’s quite special that some of the central players in the government didn’t feel they could trust him.”

Bondevik himself has said that Sponheim was “a free-speaking politician, but I never viewed him as disloyal.” The 52-year-old Sponheim himself has blasted the unauthorized biography as a “gossip book” and otherwise has mostly refused to comment on it.

His own authorized biography is due out in a few weeks. Now he says politics has become “boring,” and predicts his successor Trine Skei Grande will have a tough job.

“I hope you, Trine, will have better luck than me,” he said at the party meeting on Saturday, adding that he grieves for his lost position, “because this was a life I was extremely fond of.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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