Carl I Hagen, the outspoken, longtime leader of Norway’s most conservative party, missed politics too much after taking a stab at retirement last year. Now the 66-year-old Hagen wants to be the Mayor of Oslo, but support from potential partners is lukewarm at best.
Hagen headed Norway’s Progress Party (Fremskrittspartiet, Frp) for nearly 30 years, spent as many as a member of Parliament and went on to be its vice-president before stepping down last year. He clearly lost interest quickly in retirement, though, and now seeks a political comeback at the municipal level, as mayor of the Norwegian capital.
Both he and his party fellows have launched him as their candidate for mayor during next year’s municipal elections but they’re already facing opposition from the Conservative Party (Høyre), their current partner in the city’s non-socialist government.
Hagen, for example, wants the Conservatives to go along with a joint platform declaration of sorts, via a six-point plan for next year’s election campaign. He thinks it’s better to formally tackle areas where the two partners disagree, instead of waiting for the opposition to do it.
Michael Tetzschner, leader of the Oslo Conservatives, doesn’t think that’s necessary. “We have no tradition for such a declaration, no matter who we cooperate with,” Tetzschner told newspaper Aftenposten. “We assume that voters know what the parties stand for in general.”
Nor do the Conservatives feel a need for any joint committee that would address the two parties’ differences, sure to crop up both during the election campaign and later. “That shouldn’t be necessary as long as everyone maintains a civil tone,” Tetzschner said. “I’ve never seen such a thing before.”
Nor are the Conservatives enthusiastic about Hagen’s desire that the two parties should work for a solid majority alone, without the help of smaller parties like the Christian Democrats (Kristelig Folkeparti) and the Liberals (Venstre). “That’s not on our agenda here in Oslo or anywhere else in the country,” said Annelise Høegh of the Conservatives. “We want the broadest city governments possible.”
Questions about Hagen as a unifying force
Then there are those voters, from all the various parties on both ends of the political spectrum, who don’t see Hagen as the unifying figure a mayor is supposed to be. Hagen built up a national reputation for being skeptical about immigration, criticizing both his political opponents’ alleged failure to integrate new immigrants and immigrants’ own failure to learn Norwegian quickly and integrate immediately, and in general being a sharp-tongued critic of taxes and government regulation. His detractors don’t think he or his party are the ideal representatives for Oslo’s increasingly multi-cultural population.
Hagen rejects such criticism, claiming that he proved how unifying he can be as vice-president of the Parliament. He says he can “overcome the barriers” by being “mayor for the entire city.”
He was less clear about what might happen if the Progress Party finally becomes part of a non-socialist national government after the next national elections in 2013. His party and the Conservatives recently trounced the current left-center coalition government in public opinion polls and Hagen may be called to a ministerial post, meaning he might desert the mayor’s job if he wins it next year.
He told Aftenposten only that “if I am elected to the city government, I will take the mayor’s role with the intention that I will do a good job with it for the four-year term.”