Local elections won’t be held around Norway until the fall of 2011, but it seems like the mayor’s race in Oslo is already underway. News broke over the weekend that former Progress Party boss Carl I Hagen may be a candidate, and his political opponents say they welcome a lively campaign.
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) carried Hagen’s photo on its front page Saturday, with a headline saying basically that Hagen misses himself in Norwegian politics. The long-time, feisty head of the country’s most conservative mainstream party confirmed he’d been approached by party fellows in Oslo, who think he’d make an excellent mayor of the nation’s capital.
“To be mayor of Oslo is of course an extremely fascinating thought,” Hagen told DN. “Oslo is my city. I’m born and reared here and, apart from some years in Bærum, I’ve lived here all my life.”
Hagen seemed to dismiss another few years when he and his wife Eli had a house on Nøtterøy, outside of Tønsberg, along with the time they spend at their second home in Spain. He frankly admitted that he misses politics, his own role in it, and claimed that he still has “a lot to contribute.”
Hagen played a major role in building up the Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) from being a tiny, right-wing party on Norway’s political fringe into what now ranks as the country’s second-largest. He became best known, rightly or wrongly, for wanting to limit immigration into Norway, as well as for being a champion of tax-cutting and reducing the role of the state in daily life.
Asked whether he’d be able to play a unifying role in the Norwegian city with the most non-Norwegian residents in the country, he claimed he would. “I know that I can be a unifying force,” he told DN. “I have unfortunately experienced that others don’t think I am.”
‘Raising the temperature’
He praised the job now being done by Mayor Fabian Stang of the Conservatives, who clearly will be a strong incumbent candidate. Stang said he looks forward to run a tough campaign next year, but warns Hagen against thinking the mayor’s job is part-time.
“I have my focus and a desire to do a good job for the city,” Stang told DN, noting, though, that Hagen is “a known name” who would boost interest in the election.
Jan Bøhler, leader of the Oslo Labour Party, which leads the national government but is in opposition in Oslo, also said Hagen’s candidacy would be “positive … because he’ll raise the temperature and mobilize the political left.”
Labour’s candidate will likely be Rune Gerhardsen, son of former legendary Prime Minister Einar Gerhardsen, who’s often on the left side of the Labour Party. Bøhler won’t commit to that, but says Hagen faces a tough race no matter who his opponents are.
“He’s always campaigned as part of the opposition,” Bøhler notes. Now, since Hagen’s party has been part of the city government for several years, he’ll have to defend current programs and services in Oslo, “and that will be something new.”