UPDATED: Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre issued a rare public rebuke to a party colleague on Thursday afternoon, stating in a press release that the party’s deputy leader Trond Giske has behaved “in a manner worthy of criticism.” Giske quickly apologized, stating that he was taking complaints filed against him seriously.
Støre’s rebuke came after a series of reports in Norwegian media that Giske’s behaviour has been the target of a series of complaints made to party officials. While the complaints have been anonymous and those filing them have remained out of the public eye, they’ve reportedly come from party colleagues and young women. Støre wouldn’t say exactly what Giske has done to spark the complaints.
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported Thursday afternoon, however, that one of them dates from 2008 and comes from a woman who was a young theology student at the time. She reportedly attracted unwanted attention from Giske when he was government minister in charge of culture and the former Norwegian state church, for the left-center government headed by former Labour Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg.
The young student’s discomfort was confirmed by the rector of Norway’s theology school, Vidar L Haanes, who told DN he remembers her complaint well. He said she had consulted him about Giske’s advances, wondering whether it “would be unfortunate for the school” if she rebuffed Giske since they all depended on state financial support from his ministry. Haanes made it clear she must set her own limits and that it would not be “unfortunate” if she turned him away. She did, prompting Haanes to tell DN that “it took courage to resist a government minister.”
The woman told DN herself that upon hearing of other complaints against him, she decided to alert the party to her own experience with Giske: “I don’t think a government minister should behave the way he did. Even though nothing happened (after she refused his advances), I felt his persistence was uncomfortable.” She added that she hoped more women will come forth with their stories.
Støre takes charge
Labour leader Støre apparently agreed Giske’s behaviour was out of line. “Out of consideration to those involved, I cannot comment on individual cases,” Støre stated. “But I have stressed the seriousness of the situation when the party receives such warnings. I have told Trond that he has behaved in a manner worthy of criticism.”
Støre had a meeting on Thursday with both Giske and Labour Party Secretary Kjersti Stenseng, who holds the party’s top administrative post. The subject of the meeting was the string of complaints made against Giske.
Støre stated that Giske had expressed he understood he had behaved in a manner “that had led to these reactions” from those offended.
‘Negative for the party’
Giske, a Labour Party veteran who held two government ministerial posts in the former Labour-led government, confirmed that, stating in the same press release that he had been made aware that complaints have been filed that involved him.
“I gave gone through them with Jonas and Kjersti today and have accepted the criticism,” Giske stated. “I take it seriously that I have behaved in a matter that has been a burden on others. I strongly apolgize for that. It is my responsibility to make sure no one has such an impression of me.”
Giske went on to state that he understands that “such impressions” are “negative for the party and for the party culture we should have.” He acknowledged that members of the party’s leadership, such as himself, have a special responsibilty to contribute towards “a good party culture.”
He claimed he would now do his best to contribute towards that.
Støre changed his mind about Giske
It was just last week that Støre had defended Giske live on national radio, saying on state broadcaster NRK’s morning debate program Politisk kvarter that he did not think Giske had behaved inappropriately. He was apparently referring to earlier complaints made against Giske that had been handled by Stenseng’s predecessor Raymond Johansen and possibly others.
Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported Thursday morning that at least four new complaints had been filed against Giske, though, directly to Støre and thus bypassing Stenseng. There reportedly were concerns that since Stenseng is viewed as among Giske’s supporters within the party, she might not have taken the complaints seriously herself. Stenseng has strongly denied that. Several other top Labour Party politicians and the head of the party’s Oslo chapter went public Wednesday with complaints of their own, worried there was a “poisonous party culture” within Labour that had tied complaints to alleged power struggles among party members.
The entire conflict, which has arisen in the midst of the international “metoo” campaign against sexual harassment, has added to the party’s woes after it lost the parliamentary election in September and has been trying to rebuild ever since. The party has widely viewed as being in crisis, with Støre facing yet another test of leadership over how he’d handle the latest complaints against his deputy leader.