Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg hasn’t been having a very good year, and now he’s being jabbed by yet another of his government colleagues who are supposed to be on his side. The latest political poking comes from Gerd Liv Valla, a Labour Party colleague who rose to be Norway’s most powerful union boss, only to be accused herself of terrible leadership and forced to quit under fire.
Valla has joined other high-ranking current and former left-leaning politicians in letting off steam in the form of a book this fall. Their timing is interesting: Stoltenberg’s so-called “red-green” left-center government, which has employed all of them in one way or another, is already under heavy pressure from the opposition parties in parliament and lost popularity in public opinion polls. It would seem more natural for his government colleagues to rally to their cause instead of picking it apart.
Yet that’s what they’re doing. Education Minister Kristin Halvorsen, who has shared government power with Stoltenberg since 2005 as head of the Socialist Left party (SV), was first out with her book earlier this autumn, followed by former Center Party leader Åslaug Haga. Haga was the other leader in the three-party government coalition that Stoltenberg heads, until she got in trouble over some zoning irregularities and then suffered some health problems and left politics. Valla’s book was released this week, five years after she had to quit as head of the trade union federation LO.
All apparently felt a need to scold Stoltenberg for various alleged misdeeds, mostly what they viewed as his lack of support when the going got rough. Both Haga and Halvorsen, who have led small parties in the government dominated by Stoltenberg’s Labour Party, complained Stoltenberg didn’t give them enough backing on issues important to their own parties. Valla also complained on their behalf in her book that Stoltenberg hasn’t made enough concessions to his government partners and has become too conservative. Valla wants Labour to get more radical.
Halvorsen, who was finance minister during the government’s first term, went so far as to write that her party colleagues have referred to their Labour counterparts as herrefolket (akin to “the lords of the manor”). It was never easy for SV, with 8.8 percent of the vote compared to Labour’s 32.7 percent after the election in 2005, to get its way on key political issues but it got worse when SV lost valuable seats in parliament in the 2009 election and wound up with just 6.1 percent compared to Labour’s 35.4 percent. Then she didn’t feel Labour listened anymore, and that SV didn’t get credit for its hard work the first four years. The Center Party was still smaller, with just 6.2 percent of the vote, but it didn’t lose support as badly in the 2009 election as SV did.
SV’s Halvorsen also revealed a near government crisis in 2007 when Labour wouldn’t go along with SV’s demands to cut more carbon emissions at home instead of simply paying for cuts overseas. SV felt betrayed, and cooperation among the three government parties was seriously damaged from that point on.
Halvorsen also jabbed the other party leader at the time, Haga, writing that “I got little help from her during a period when it was difficult to be finance minister and SV leader at the same time. She could have cut out the talking behind my back.”
Haga, soon to move abroad to take over as head of the UN’s Global Crop Diversity Trust in Bonn, claims her book is a “declaration of affection for the left-center government coalition,” but she also pokes it for failing to reduce differences between rich and poor in Norway, an issue Valla also takes up in her book. Neither think Stoltenberg and Labour have done enough to reduce the number of people in Norway who can be classified as poor, and Haga calls for a new political platform soon.
Some commentators have noted that it’s “remarkable” that so many left-center politicians are publishing books critical of their own government this fall. It’s as if they “instinctively feel they have to hurry to make their points before the Stoltenberg government falls,” wrote newspaper Dagsavisen last month. Halvorsen puts a different spin on it:
“The reason I wrote this book now is that I think voters and those interested in politics deserve to get a bit more insight into what’s been happening behind the scenes of this red-green project,” she told Dagsavisen. “I just thought that many voters may have wondered what we’re up to here in Oslo. Let them get an answer then! At least my answer, and before it’s too late.”
Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund
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