Norway’s Progress Party, and its leader Siv Jensen, fended off near-constant bashing in the media last week to pull off one of their best annual national meetings in years over the weekend. The party boasted of the progress it claims it’s made as part of the government coalition, and Jensen revved up her troops to be on the offense instead of the defense.
Jensen’s party leadership survived intact, members backed the party’s government project despite the political compromises it has demanded, and they could all even enjoy a rise in public opinion polls. “Now we’ve all been filled with inspiration and good resolutions,” Jensen declared when adjourning the national meeting at Gardermoen on Sunday. “Municipal elections (this fall) will be won through hard work.”
Her troops were the latest of Norway’s political parties to gather in a spring succession of national gatherings aimed at launching the campaign for local government elections on September 14. They had a rough starting point, after months of being battered in the polls. Various media outlets had also been warning all week that Jensen and her party leaders faced a grass-roots revolution. The party, finally part of government after decades in opposition, has been accused of “losing its soul” through the need for political compromise that’s arisen after moving into position.
Some of the Progress Party’s own veterans also often seem like their own worst enemies, with former longtime leader Carl I Hagen criticizing the traditionally anti-immigration party’s compromises on immigration issues, for example. Hagen, who controversially came out of retirement and is now a candidate for mayor of Oslo, went into the weekend meeting complaining that party leaders hadn’t been good enough at stressing the party’s own political views, and that they had a tendency to drown in government cooperation.
Strong support after all
There was no grass-roots revolution, however, and Jensen prevailed, delivering what even Hagen conceded was one of her best national party speeches ever. Jensen, her deputy leader Ketil Solvik-Olsen and several other Progress Party ministers also had no trouble boasting of progress made during their government tenure so far, since winning national elections in September 2013: Tax breaks, looming reforms and record funding for transportation and a new approach to roadbuilding were just some of the breakthroughs the party has made while in office. Transport Minister Solvik-Olsen “has worked at 110 (kilometers per hour) to push through roadbuilding in record time,” Jensen proclaimed. “He has delivered, a formidable victory” for the party, she stated, while the popular Solvik-Olsen himself suggested he was just getting started.
Even Jensen’s other deputy leader, the loud and often controversial Per Sandberg, refrained from stirring up more trouble like that he raised with the government’s support parties earlier this year. A proposal from another of the party’s controversial members, Carl Tybring Gjedde to not allow any additional refugees, Syrian or otherwise, into Norway failed to win any support.
The party did vote against proposals from other parties, like Labour and its own government partner The Liberals, for Norway to take in 10,000 more Syrian refugees this year and next. Both the Progress Party and their coalition partner The Conservatives, prefer “to help them were they are,” in refugee camps in the Middle East, but the coalition may be forced into a compromise since it faces a majority in Parliament willing to accept more refugees. As of now, Jensen’s party maintains that the 2,500 agree on earlier continues to apply for this year.
New initiatives loom
In other issues, the Progress Party agreed that Norway’s military must be strengthened, and it will ask the government to evaluate creating a new state-owned company to handle military purchasing, much like what Solvik-Olsen has done with roadbuilding. The goal would be to finance major expenditures like new submarines and fighter jets outside the state budget. The party also acknowledged that local governments need more state funding to carry out their tasks, and party members who hold local government power were hoping for extra funding from Finance Minister Jensen in the revised state budget.
After being attacked by Labour at its national meeting last weekend, and not least during Labour Day speeches on Friday, the Progress Party also suggested it will be “smoking out” Labour politicians on key issues over the next several months. Its tone towards its government support parties, the Liberals and the Christian Democrats, can be expected to be milder. Newspaper Aftenposten reported that there was hardly any criticism directed at them during the weekend, a sharp contrast from Sandberg’s earlier rants.
“This has been a fantastic weekend,” an energized Jensen exclaimed when the meeting was all over. “We have handled resolutions, we have had exciting debates and we now stand together in election campaign mode before the elections this fall. Elections are won through hard work and genuine commitment.” She could also bask in newfound support in public opinion polls, with the party gaining 2.3 points (to claim 11.3 percent of the vote) in a “party barometer” presented by newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) and moving back into double-digit support in another “Poll of polls” reported by news bureau NTB. Labour fell in all the most recent polls, as much as five points in DN’s.