New book strips oil minister bare

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A new, unauthorized biography of Norway’s Oil & Energy Minister Ola Borten Moe has set tongues wagging over its literally naked portrayal of a man allegedly obsessed with power. Released just days before Moe’s small and troubled Center Party holds its annual meeting this weekend, the book was drawing controversy and criticism while Moe himself was refusing to comment on it.

Ola Borten Moe, often seen as a tall and solemn young man in public, is revealed as a partying politician intent on attaining power in the new book by VG's political editor Elisabeth Skarsbø Moen. She has also written several other political biographies and covered Norwegian politics for years. PHOTO: Senterpartiet

Ola Borten Moe, often seen as a tall and solemn young man in public, is revealed as a partying politician intent on attaining power in the new book by VG’s political editor Elisabeth Skarsbø Moen. She has also written several other political biographies and covered Norwegian politics for years. PHOTO: Senterpartiet

“It’s difficult to comment on something I haven’t read,” Moe, who has sparked a good deal of political controversy on his own during the past year, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Wednesday morning. “I’m not even sure I will read it.”

He certainly didn’t contribute to the book, entitled Portrett av en pløyboy (“Portrait of a plowboy,” a takeoff on “playboy” and Moe’s ownership of a farm in Trøndelag). His party’s own website was ignoring the book entirely, at least so far. Written by Elisabeth Skarsbø Moen, the insider-savvy political editor of Norway’s major tabloid newspaper Verdens Gang (VG), it portrays Moe as a political heir keen to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather and former prime minister, Per Borten.

“Borten Moe’s driving force is first and foremost a wish to attain power,” writes Moen. And while Moe’s grandfather once posed for photographers wearing only his underpants (albeit on a warm day at his farm in Trøndelag), Moen portrays the publicly solemn Borten Moe as a “party prince” who posed at a late-night festive gathering wearing nothing at all.

That’s what already had stirred plenty of debate (and publicity) even before the book went on sale on Wednesday: Moen wrote openly about how she wound up at a so-called nachspiel (a party after a party) in the Oslo apartment of Moe’s top aide at the time, Ivar Vigdenes. Vigdenes, according to Moen, got the idea, after an evening out on the town, to enjoy a sauna, even though there was no sauna in his apartment.

“We can just turn on the (clothes) dryer and the shower, then there will be a sauna in the bathroom,” Vigdenes reportedly announced. Oil Minister Moe went along with the idea and was soon standing in front of Moen, she wrote, “without the Borten family’s shield of nobility: trusa (underpants).” She wrote that she left the party around 3:30am and that Moe was in place at a meeting with an important energy producer at 8:30am when the workday began. It was unclear whether she was at work that early herself.

Oil Minister Ola Borten Moe won't comment on the new unauthorized biography of him. PHOTO: Fagforlag

Oil Minister Ola Borten Moe won’t comment on the new unauthorized biography of him. PHOTO: Fagforlag

The naked portrayal of one of the Norwegian government’s most important ministers galavanting in the nude without much thought for his party’s usual mantra of energy conservation, given the sauna episode, is revealing but has also sparked criticism even among Moen’s Norwegian journalist colleagues. While reporters in many other countries wouldn’t hesitate to report such behavior by a top politician, Norwegian journalists still tend to be relatively restrained and some bashed Moen for “crossing the line” and apparently violating confidence. Harald Stanghelle of Aftenposten, for example, called her revelation “speculative” and “moralistic” and implied that he never would have written about such a scene. Pernille Huseby, political editor of the small, farmer-friendly newspaper Nationen that often supports Moe’s Center Party, agreed with Stanghelle, claiming that it was “unnecessary” for the Norwegian public to be informed of Moe’s antics and that she thinks his Center Party colleagues will rally around him now.

Moe has recently stirred controversy in his party for favouring oil and gas exploration and production over environmental protection, for what some call his “solo” initiatives on a variety of issues, and for his conflicts with Center Party leader Liv Signe Navarsete. Author Moen defended her coverage of the late-night party episode with Moe because it revealed poor judgment by a government minister.

Moen also describes Moe’s relationship with Navarsete as “lacking mutual confidence and characterized by strong feelings and suspicion.” Communication between the party’s leader and deputy leader has included “clear threats against each other,” Moen writes. Moe has claimed his relation with his party leader is “good and clarified.”

It’s Moe’s lust for power, though, that comes through most clearly in Moen’s book, and she noted on NRK’s national newscast Dagsrevy Tuesday evening that he has a track record of switching his position on key issues if it will help him attain power. Even though Moe has said he won’t stand for re-election to Parliament this fall, author Moen contends he’s by no means giving up his political ambitions. He will remain one of the party’s two deputy leaders and, Moen predicts, aims to take over Navarsete’s job one day, and become prime minister. Again, no comment from Moe himself, or Navarsete.

The party now has so little support from voters (4.8 percent according to one of the most recent polls) that its main goal is to stay above the 4 percent required for representation in Parliament. That’s why its various internal factions need to unite during this weekend’s annual meeting, and why both Moe and Navarsete need to put on the best possible face. Despite its lack of support among voters as a whole, the party still gets a lot of attention because of the powerful farming lobby behind it and because it’s part of the left-center government coalition, at least until the next national election in September.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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