While most top Norwegian politicians are taking a least a week or two off this summer, Liberal Party leader Trine Skei Grande is already on the campaign trail in an effort to win back voters instead. Grande’s small party that once held government power now finds itself battling to simply retain representation in Parliament.
Grande thus figures she can’t allow herself much if any time off between now and Election Day on September 11. With public opinion polls consistently showing the non-socialist Liberals (Venstre) below the 4 percent of the vote needed for a parliamentary delegation, Grande faces a huge challenge trying to win back their confidence.
“We must manage to have more broad appeal and promote our environmental policies,” Grande told news bureau NTB this week. She first said in late June, when the crisis her party is facing became clear, that she’d be giving up her summer holidays this year.
She’s already been spending the past few weeks since driving around Norway in her green electric vehicle plastered with her photo and Venstre’s logo. She’s been visiting small businesses, summer festivals, community events and public markets. As she set off from Oslo again on Monday, she unveiled plans to visit Arendal, Stavanger, Bergen and Førde this week alone. “We’ll be everywhere,” Grande promised.
Can determine a left- or right-wing government
Her motivation is that even with just over 4 percent of the vote needed for representation in Parliament, her party can determine whether Norway winds up with a Conservatives- or Labour Party-led government coalition. The Liberals have not been part of the current minority Conservative-Progress Party coalition that’s held government power since 2013, but they have had a support agreement with it along with the Christian Democrats. Now, with the latter possibly defecting to the left side of Norwegian politics dominated by Labour and, more recently, the farmer-friendly Center Party, the Liberals’ seats in Parliament can save Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s Conservatives-led coalition.
That’s why Solberg has been trying to help Grande and her Liberals, showing up at some Liberal Party events and allowing the Conservatives’ number-crunchers to share their voter statistics. Solberg and Grande have suddenly become political “best friends,” reported newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) recently, with plans to “speak warmly about each other and each other’s party and not undermine the government.” Grande already saved the government in June by supporting its offer to farmers that, while sweetened, wasn’t close to what the farmers themselves and the Center Party wanted. The Liberals have also realized that their initial opposition to the Solberg government’s state budget proposal late last year was a mistake.
Dreaming of a right-center coalition
Grande’s dream is to win enough votes that she and Solberg could form a right-center coalition with enough of the Liberals’ environmental friendly policies that they could rein in some of the Conservatives’ bullishness on the oil industry. The Liberals, for example, remain one of the few parties in Parliament firmly opposed to oil exploration and production off Lofoten. Both Labour and the Conservatives are willing to open up exploration blocs in areas with rich fishing grounds and not far from some of Norway’s most scenic coastline. The Liberals could stop that.
If her summer and early fall campaign proves successful, and the Liberals win enough votes to hold their seats in Parliament, “we (she and Solberg) will sit down after the election. Then we (her party) fight for a greener government.” Her biggest challenge on the non-socialist side of Norwegian politics remains the conservative Progress Party, with which the Liberals don’t get along. Progress, however, remains Solberg’s most likely government partner again, with the Christian Democrats waffling on the sidelines. Grande’s biggest challenge remains warding off her party’s worst election results in 28 years.