Four years ago Geir Lippestad was the lead defense attorney for the right-wing extremist who attacked the Norwegian Labour Party and killed 77 people. On Wednesday Lippestad was named as one of eight members of Oslo’s new Labour-led and decidedly left-wing city government coalition. He wasn’t the only one who was surprised.
“I was very surprised, and very happy,” Lippestad, a high-profile lawyer in Norway, told state broadcaster NRK after he was named as Oslo’s top city politician in charge of business, ownership and integration issues. He said his new duties will be “interesting and important, and it was impossible to turn the job down.”
His appointment symbolized a paradox not altogether unusual in Norway, where civility pervades the power structure. Labour officials never held a grudge against the man who set aside his personal feelings to conduct his professional duty as defense counsel for the mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik. Lippestad was already a long-time member of the Labour Party, and active in his home district of Nordstrand on Oslo’s southeast side, when he was chosen by Breivik to defend him after he’d slaughtered scores of young Labour activists in his attacks carried out on July 22, 2011. Lippestad accepted the job, and when the trial was over, he became even more active in Labour Party politics, appearing and even speaking at national meetings. He later was named chairman of the new left-leaning think tank Agenda and there was some speculation last year that he might be fronted as Labour’s candidate for mayor in Oslo. Now he’s confirmed as a key member of the new minority coalition city government that former national Labour Party boss Raymond Johansen has formed along with the Socialist Left (SV) and Greens (MDG) parties following last month’s municipal elections.
Johansen will, as expected take on the most powerful role as leader of the new city government. It included another surprising political face in the line-up he presented outside Oslo’s City Hall on Wednesday: Inga Marte Thorkildsen of SV, a former minister in the last left-center state government who lost her job when SV badly lost the national election in 2013. She was handed SV’s only seat in the coalition. Thorkildsen had also lost her job within SV’s own party structure, since it performed so poorly in the elections and had to dramatically reduce costs and staff. Now Thorkildsen has re-emerged on the political scene and will be the top city politician in charge of elder care, health and social welfare issues.
Tone Tellevik Dahl, the Labour Party politician who lost out as Labour’s candidate for mayor because Johansen had to hand that post over to SV’s Marianne Borgen during negotiations to form the government, was instead given the post as political head of education issues in Oslo. Rounding out Labour’s six posts in the government are Rina Mariann Hansen, in charge of culture, sports and volunteer efforts, and Robert Steen, a former director of media company Schibsted who will be in charge of city finances.
The Greens party, as predicted, won two seats in the new coalition government after it had won 8.1 percent of the vote in Oslo (twice that of SV) and was able to push through its tough environmental agenda during coalition negotiations. Lan Marie Nguyen Berg will be in charge of environmental and transport issues, while Hanna E Marcussen will be in charge of city development. That suggests far more emphasis on and investment in public transport and bicycle lanes, and restrictive environmentally oriented real estate development.
Johansen once again called the new government “historic,” not only because of its sharp turn to the left and ambitious environmental programs but also because only three of its eight members are men. Labour lived up to its promises of getting more women into positions of power.
“I have also been determined to bring in people with lots of experience from the business world,” Johansen said, a reference to Steen. “Oslo shall be the motor for Norway. We need new impulses to renew city policies.”
Borgen was also confirmed as mayor representing SV, with Labour’s Khamshajiny “Kamzy” Gunaratnam appointed as vice-mayor. Gunaratnam, age 27, survived the attacks carried out by Lippestad’s former client by swimming through the cold waters of the Tyrifjord and away from the island of Utøya where they took place. She since has served as deputy leader of Labour in Oslo and has represented the Groruddalen area of Oslo on the city council, serving on the health and social welfare committee from 2011 to 2015.