Former minister claims she’s not bitter

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The former Labour Party minister who’s written what her party colleagues are calling a downright  nasty book about them is defending her decision to publish her highly critical memories just four weeks before the parliamentary elections. Grete Knudsen, who held ministerial posts in three Labour governments, also claims she’s not bitter.

She said that she chose this week to release her harsh criticisms of everyone from legendary Labour Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland to today’s premier, Jens Stoltenberg, because “it’s now (during the current election campaign) that politics are on the daily agenda.”

On a more personal note, Knudsen said at a press conference arranged through her publisher, Kagge Forlag,  that “it was also right for me to write this book now,” after a lengthy period of illness. Knudsen, who left politics more than a decade ago, said she has suffered from both cancer and a stroke.

‘Not damaging’
Asked whether she thus was willing to damage her party during the election campaign, Knudsen responded that she didn’t want to hurt her party in any way, “and I don’t think this book will do that anyway. This will blow over. Next week there will be new issues.”

Knudsen’s book, written as a collection of her memories, set off a storm of political reaction on Tuesday because of its unusually tough and direct criticism of Labour Party politicians with whom she worked over the years. Many of them are ministers in the current Labour-led government that’s seeking re-election to a third term, with Knudsen accusing Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg of being a weak leader who avoids confrontation and Health Minister Jonas Gahr Støre of being a solo-player who lacks a working class background and thus is unsuited to be a Labour leader.

Other Labour colleagues were called everything from “conspiratorial” to virtual liars, while she hailed former Labour Prime Minister Thorbjørn Jagland and claims he was the victim of a power struggle within the party from which Stoltenberg emerged victorious. She said Wednesday that she wanted to present another picture of Jagland than that which his opponents have used “great efforts” to create.

Calm and restrained
Former Labour Party secretary Martin Kolberg, now a Member of Parliament for Labour, blasted Knudsen and her book on Tuesday as having “evil intentions.” Kolberg also said Knudsen’s “mean-spirited” book “says more about Grete Knudsen than the Norwegian Labour Party.”

Knudsen, who sat calmly and restrained during her meeting with a room packed with reporters, reacted to Kolberg’s remarks Wednesday “as I usually did when it comes to Martin Kolberg: I hadn’t expected anything else from him.”

The book has not only been blasted by her party colleagues but by opposition politicians and media commentators as well, on both ends of the political spectrum. Torbjørn Røe Isaksen of the Conservative Party wrote on social media site Twitter, for example, that “The election campaign aside: It’s quite insensitive to release a book with character assassinations of your party colleagues just a few weeks before an election.” Harald Stanghelle, a longtime political commentator, noted in newspaper Aftenposten how Knudsen accused her colleagues of “shitting in their own nest,” but went on to do “exactly the same thing herself.” Others called Knudsen and her book “hurtful,” “mean” and “very disappointing,” and some politicians are calling for her expulsion from the Labour Party, which she still refers to as “my party.”

‘Important part of Labour’s history’
She defends her work, saying she wrote about her Labour Party tenure during the turbulent 1980s and ’90s because it’s “an important part of Labour’s history” and that there’s “nothing negative about stirring up debate.” She stepped back from some of her criticism, saying that Stoltenberg was a “warm and close” leader after the terrorist attacks in 2011 and that he is “a nice guy” despite being, in her opinion, evasive.

Anne Gaathaug of Kagge Forlag, meanwhile, confirmed to Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that both Knudsen and her publisher agreed to release the book, which costs NOK 399 (nearly USD 70) in the middle of the election campaign to drum up more interest for it. She told NRK there was never any discussion to wait with its release until after the election. This week they were getting exactly the free publicity they sought.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund