One of the Norwegian Labour Party’s two deputy leaders, Trond Giske, is widely viewed to have positioned himself as the new heir-apparent to Labour’s beleaguered leader Jonas Gahr Støre. Giske’s alleged power grab clears the way for him to be prime minister as well, if Labour should regain government power, and that doesn’t sit well at all with some party veterans.
“Now he (Giske) has positioned himself so that he’s next in line to be prime minister,” Grethe G Fossum, who was a Member of Parliament for Labour for 12 years and on its central board for eight years in the 1990s, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) last week. “If Giske wants that, he’s now where he should be, and he is not my first choice.”
Fossum is among those in the party upset that power struggles have broken out since Labour suffered a crushing defeat in last month’s parliamentary election. On Monday, the party released a report about why it thinks it lost so badly, claiming just 27.4 percent of the vote, and how Labour can learn from its mistakes.
The loss has also set off some personnel changes within the party, and Giske quickly made it clear he wanted to take over as finance policy spokesman for the party, and head the finance committee in Parliament. That’s one of the Parliament’s most powerful posts and Støre went along, with Giske now replacing Marianne Marthinsen who wanted to retain her post.
“I don’t think any of this has been tackled very well,” Fossum told DN. “There’s been very clumsy handling of the whole issue.”
Fossum, who has referred to Giske as “power hungry” on social media, is not alone in her assessment of the 50-year-old career politician. “The women in Labour are so angry (at his alleged power grab from Marthinsen) that they will never want Trond Giske as prime minister.” She told DN she doesn’t like the way he builds networks or how he leads. “There are certain qualities that make you suitable as a prime minister, and you either have them or you don’t,” Fossum said. “It has to do with whether people feel good in your company.”
On Saturday, newspaper Aftenposten carried a front-page story that Giske’s “positioning” angered others including Labour’s powerful former secretary and veteran Martin Kolberg. With his finger pointed at Giske, Kolberg reportedly surprised colleagues at a recent closed-doors party meeting with strong criticism of Giske and his alleged attempt to fend off responsibility for the election defeat. Støre had called for “an open debate” on Labour’s failed strategy, only to kick out the press and close the doors behind them.
Kolberg, meanwhile, reportedly called on all present to rally around Støre. With his finger raised, Kolberg apparently had been provoked by Giske’s statement to newspaper VG that “there were others than me” who were in charge of the election campaign.” While his co-deputy leader Hadia Tajik was responsible for the party program, he was responsibile for the campaign and its organization.
“Giske didn’t take responsibility for the election result,” one insider who asked not to be identified told Aftenposten. Since “everyone” knew that Giske played a key role in forming and communicating Labour’s election history, “it’s wrong for him to distance himself, that left many with a bad taste in their mouths.”
‘Capable’ but ‘controversial’
Giske has his supporters, including Karianne Tung, who told DN she thinks Giske is “very capable” of taking on “most any assignments.” His time hasn’t come yet, she noted, “because we already have a very clever party leader (Støre),” but Giske can be “a good finance spokesman or whatever.” Others criticized Fossum’s criticism and stressed that such conflicts can damage Labour, at a time when it needs to regroup and win back respect.
Powerful trade union boss Leif Sande, meanwhile, told DN he wasn’t keen to protect Støre as party leader for the next four years, calling Giske “the decidedly most clever politician Labour has.” Some even compare Giske to the Progress Party’s provocative Sylvi Listhaug on the other side of Norwegian politics. Both like to question their rivals’ motives, both are unusually bold and outspoken. Aftenposten’s political commentator Trine Eilertsen, though, warned on Sunday that “like all other political leaders, Trond Giske must reflect over why he’s so controversial. If he chooses to overlook that, both he and the party have a problem.”
Giske himself seemed to be taking the recent post-election power struggles and conflicts in stride. He told Aftenposten that he had expected the report released on Monday to show “that we struggled with our tax message during the campaign. All of us with responsibility for it must learn from that. There aren’t any single individuals who decide on policy in the Labour Party, but rather it’s the national meeting’s results, the central board and the parliamentary delegation. We share the disappointment over the election result and we take responsibility together. And together we’ll come back strong.”