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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Labour Party torn by new sex scandal

UPDATED: Some Labour Party officials are calling it the party’s worst crisis ever, after top politician Roger Ingebrigtsen was forced to resign for having had a sexual relationship eight years ago with a teenage party member. His resignation set off an ongoing drama, with some accusing him of sexual assault and others claiming he’s a victim of “dirty party politics” aimed at toppling him from power.

Roger Ingebrigtsen is a Labour Party veteran who has served as a state secretary in the ministries of trade, defense and health in Norway’s current left-center government and in culture in an earlier Labour government. Now he’s resigned all his political roles after admitting to having had a sexual relationship with a teenage party member eight years ago. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

Ingebrigtsen was, until Friday, a state secretary in the trade ministry and a leading candidate for a seat in parliament from Labour’s Troms chapter in northern Norway. On Tuesday he reportedly was heading for some time off with his family in southern Europe, to get away from the media glare.

His fall from grace was sudden and complete, after a now-25-year-old party politician in Troms decided to finally tell another top Labour politician last week about her sexual relationship with Ingebrigtsen when she was 17 and he was 37. Now they’ve both withdrawn as parliamentary candidates from Labour’s Troms chapter, the party is calling for new nominations and a meeting to decide on candidates has been postponed until late January.

The young woman’s report of her earlier relationship with Ingebrigtsen was quickly sent up the Labour Party chain of command and Ingebrigtsen, confronted with her complaint, has since resigned from both his party posts and his high-ranking job in the trade ministry. Party secretary Raymond Johansen and Ingebrigtsen himself acknowledged that the sexual relationship was, if not illegal, highly inappropriate because of the vast age difference between the two and Ingebrigtsen’s position within the party.

Intrigue arose just as quickly, however, because the young woman who blew the whistle on Ingebrigtsen eight years after their relationship began had chosen to tell her story to her longtime girlfriend and aspiring Labour politician Tonje Brenna, who recently was tapped by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg to work as one of his top advisers. Brenna didn’t appear to be impartial, because she lives with the young man, Martin Henriksen, who had been challenging Ingebrigtsen for the parliamentary nomination from Troms. Henriksen would thus seem cleared to win the nomination at a long-planned meeting on Sunday, with Ingebrigtsen out of the way.

The nomination meeting ended up being cancelled and party officials on Monday called for it to be postponed until after New Year because of all the controversy and divisiveness now raging within Labour. Crisis meetings were held instead, because of what local party leader Odd Arne Thunberg called “an extremely difficult situation.”

‘Only right thing’
Johansen, the powerful national party secretary, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Saturday night that Brenna “did the only right thing” by immediately forwarding the report of the sexual relationship to her boss in the prime minister’s office, who sent it on to Johansen. Brenna claims she had no ulterior motives and Henriksen has claimed the same, saying he had no prior knowledge of Ingebrigtsen’s relationship with the young party member who was still demanding on Monday that established media refrain from identifying her, even though she now is an active local politician in Troms County.

She was the target of what she called “harassment” over social media, though, and now says she may change her mind and report Ingebrigtsen to police after all, alleging that he served her alcohol back in 2004, pressured her into having sex and therefore abused his position of authority within the party. She had earlier said she did not want to report Ingebrigtsen to the police, nor did she want party officials to report him.

She told Tromsø newspaper Nordlys over the weekend that  she was “hurt” so much speculation was being attached to the timing of her disclosure of her relationship with Ingebrigtsen. She claims she had considered going public about it all autumn, not least because she was “furious” Ingebrigtsen himself was advocating tougher criminal punishment for sexual assault when she felt she may have  been a victim herself. Then she met Brenna last weekend. “We are good friends after many years in (Labour’s youth organziation) AUF and I have great confidence in her,” the woman told Nordlys. “When we talked, I suddenly broke down and told her everything. The next day she called me and asked if what I’d said was correct. Then I knew there was no way back.”

Labour’s troublesome personnel issues
The entire drama is being widely branded as the latest in a string of “sex scandals” to hit Norwegian politics in recent years, and the second to hit Labour this year alone. A verdict is due on December 17 in the trial against Labour’s mayor in Vågå, who’s accused of having had a sexual relationship with an even younger teenager.

The scandal also hits just as Labour faces a barrage of criticism over other top, controversial personnel changes involving its politicians at both the justice and health ministries who’ve been accused of simply doing a bad job. In those cases, however, Labour Party ministers and top bureaucrats working for them seemed to be absolved of responsibility, with former Justice Minister Knut Storberget and former Health Minister Anne-Grete Strøm-Erichsen either resigning or being transferred before official criticism of their performance was revealed.

Johansen and the party’s most powerful politicians, Prime Minister Stoltenberg and new Health Minister Jonas Gahr Støre, seem most keen to demonstrate that they’re “moving forward” after errant party colleagues are either removed or moved aside. The noise around Ingebrigtsen, and how his case has been handled, didn’t seem likely on Monday to die down soon, however. He’s now engaged one of Norway’s top defense attorneys, John Christian Elden, and may face police charges after all.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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