Norway’s defeated Labour Party has descended, just a week after losing the parliamentary election, into some bitter power struggles that also are pitting men against women. The party’s highly praised finance policy spokesperson now seems to have fallen victim to a party veteran who wanted her job.
Marianne Marthinsen received high praise during Labour’s entire election campaign and even party leaders have repeatedly said she did a good job. They couldn’t, or wouldn’t, explain why she will now be replaced by one of Labour’s two deputy leaders, Trond Giske.
Kjersti Stenseng, who holds the powerful position of Labour Party secretary, refused to directly answer why the 50-year-old Giske will now take over the important job of being the person who will propose finance policy, defend it and criticize the policies of rival parties. Several Norwegian media outlets have reported that he had let Labour’s election committee know that he wanted the post.
Labour’s election committee apparently went along and recommended Giske for the post. On Thursday party leader Jonas Gahr Støre gave it to him, even though Marthinsen had stated that she wanted to retain it. Neither Støre nor the 37-year-old Marthinsen would comment, leaving Stenseng to defend Støre’s decision live on Norway’s national nightly newscast Dagsrevyen.
She merely said, however, that after any election, the party committee nominating members for various positions starts with “a blank slate” and decides who would be best-suited for which posts. She couldn’t explain why Giske is apparently viewed as capable of doing a better job than Marthinsen.
‘Power play’ by Giske
It’s all being viewed, not least by other women within the Labour Party, as a power play on the part of Giske. Several have complained on social media, and newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported on Thursday about just how bitter the situation has become. Laila Gustavsen, a former state secretary for Labour in former Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s government, claimed she was “irritated” by implications that Labour “needed an experienced man” in the post in case they manage to topple Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s conservative government coalition. “After four years as finance policy spokesperson, Marianne Marthinsen would supposedly be more poorly qualified than a man who has never held the post,” Gustavsen wrote on Facebook. “Then I say, ‘kiss my ass.'”
Giske co-deputy leader Hadia Tajik was also reported to be upset by the move and has had problems with Giske. She was refusing to comment. Others were candid: “Young women pitted against middle-aged men often lose,” Kristin Bergersen, also a former state secretary for Labour, told DN. Inger Løite, a former Member of Parliament for Labour who now served as mayor of Gjerstad, fully supported Gustavsen: “As a politician promoting women in politics, I don’t think this looks good. I can’t understand at all why Marthinsen can’t be allowed to continue.”
Giske himself said that the party’s leadership had simply decided how to “best use its resources.” He told NRK that Marthinsen hadn’t done anything wrong and that he wasn’t replacing her as part of any “power play.” He claimed that “we’re all on the same team. It’s not unnatural that party leadership discusses the situation after an election, and looks at its appointments in a new way.” He said women would continue to hold important posts in the party, which he claimed (as Støre and Stenseng have) is more united than ever.
In the wake of last week’s disastrous election for Labour, however, there’s a lot of political positioning going on, not least because Labour lost seats in Parliament and won’t be able to shift anyone into government ministerial positions. That’s left many Labour veterans without prestigious positions.
Another man wanting a high-profile post
Among them is Espen Barth Eide, the former defense- and foreign minister who moved home to Norway earlier this year after failing to negotiate a new peace pact on Cyprus between Greece and Turkey as a special UN envoy. Eide was widely expected to become Støre’s foreign minister in a new Labour-led government, but then Labour lost the election.
NRK reported Thursday that Eide, who was granted a seat in Parliament for Labour, thus wants to become head of its defense and foreign affairs committee, replacing Anniken Huitfeldt who has held the post for the past four years. She also wants to keep it, but may end up as the next casualty as Støre doles out Labour’s fewer precious posts.