Trond Giske, one of the most powerful men in Norwegian politics, announced Sunday night that he would not be returning to his position as deputy leader of the Norwegian Labour Party. Giske, who’s been charged with sexually harassing women, also offered to resign as leader of Labour’s finance policy.
Giske’s announcement, made via social media, came after weeks of unprecedented drama that was tearing the Labour Party apart. He wrote on his personal Facebook page that “given the situation,” he’d decided that his current suspension as deputy party leader “must become permanent.”
The “main reason,” he wrote, was that it had become “impossible” for him and his family to continue to take “the pressure we have been under in recent weeks.” He claimed it was extremely difficult for his family “to experience the picture that’s painted of me, day out and day in.”
The “second reason,” he continued, was “consideration for the Labour Party and the important work we have ahead of us.” He claimed he was “touched and grateful” for the support he has received from some in the party and in the labour movement around the country. “At the same time I know how upset many are that our work is paralyzed and that we can’t work with policy,” he wrote. “I hope my decision means that (party) members and officials can again use their resources to create the society we burn for.”
Not giving up, though
Giske, who was re-elected as a Member of Parliament, indicated that he’s not giving up entirely. He wrote that he looked forward “to give my version” of events tied to the complaints against him. “I will answer questions posed and object to what I believe is incorrect. I apologize again for things I have done that have led to discomfort for others. I have not always been conscious enough of my own role in all situations, especially those informal or private. I’m sorry about that.”
Giske had earlier apologized on national TV, claiming he’d been unaware his behaviour was offensive. He went out on sick leave just before the Christmas holidays, on the grounds the pressure had become too difficult to handle.
He continued to defend himself, however, and even suggested that many of the anonymous complaints against him (filed in the wake of the international “MeToo” campaign against sexual harassment) were false and part of a power struggle within the party. Two days later, on New Year’s Day, he was “relieved of his duties” as deputy party leader indefinitely, while the complaints were investigated.
At an emergency meeting of the party’s board of directors on January 2, Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre won unanimous support for how he was investigating the sexual harassment claims. Giske’s co-deputy leader Hadia Tajik used the occasion to read aloud from some of the complaints, against Støre’s wishes but at the request of several of the women who claimed Giske had put them in uncomfortable positions and tried to exploit his powerful position.
Giske had retained his supporters, though, many of them men within Norway’s powerful trade union federations. Among them was Leif Sande, former head of Industri Energi, who accused Tajik of being “disloyal.” Sande supported the theory that Giske was the victim of a power struggle after the party lost last autumn’s national election. “He’s been a bachelor and a player, and I think he just behaved like bachelors and players do,” Sande told newspaper Dagsavisen last week. “That can’t disqualify him from his roles.”
Others disagree. The string of allegations about what Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre called “inappropriate behaviour” and “serious harassment claims” left Giske facing a loss of confidence among a majority of Labour Party members and active politicians.
One woman’s story
They culminated just before the weekend when Labour Party politician Line Oma, who heads one of the party’s most important bastions in downtown Oslo, became the first woman to go public about her own experience with Giske. She told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) that she was 23 years old at the time and working as an intern at Norway’s embassy in New Delhi. Giske was 43 and the government minister in charge of business and trade under former Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, on an official visit to India. After a large diplomatic reception at the embassy in 2010, Giske and several staffers went out to a nightclub in Delhi. Several witnesses confirmed that what happened next was both “shocking” and “uncomfortable:” Giske reportedly groped a woman dancing with her husband and then pushed Oma up against a wall, pressed his tongue against her throat and asked whether she would come with him back to his hotel. She declined. Giske declined to comment on NRK’s report of Oma’s claim, which was supported by various witnesses.
On Sunday night, after Labour Party officials worked intensely during the weekend to go through the complaints against him, Giske announced he had decided to resign as deputy party leader on a “permanent basis.” The decision, he wrote, was made in cooperation with his “closest family.” Giske, who has grown children from an earlier marriage, currently lives with a Norwegian entertainer and recently became a father again.
Giske noted in his resignation announcement that it’s been 35 years since he first joined the Labour Party and its youth organization. He claimed he had worked for “social democratic values” ever since. “My deep social commitment led me to choose a life in which I fight against injustice and equal opportunity for everyone,” he wrote. “I want to continue with that. I hope my decision (to resign his top party posts) will calm things down in the party I love, and I look forward to continue working for my voters in Trøndelag and for Labour Party politics in the years to come, after my sick leave ends.”
It remains highly unclear whether he’ll be welcome to continue. Many political commentators, also those who have traditionally backed Labour, have written Giske off as “finished” and widely predicted he’d be sacked if he didn’t resign vountarily. Labour has long prided itself as a party championing workers and equality among women. Giske’s record as both a boss and alleged womanizer was not in line with practicing what Labour preached, commentator noted. Headlines like “Giske is finished” (Dagsavisen) and “No way back for Giske” (Dagens Næringsliv) have been printed in media on both ends of the political spectrum in Norway. Newspaper Aftenposten reported last week that Giske and Tajik, meanwhile, “couldn’t stand the sight of one another” while Dagsavisen wrote over the weekend that “The Giske crisis tops all crises” in the Labour Party. Aftenposten also wrote, as have newspapers VG and Dagbladet, that Giske had been a controversial Labour leader for 25 years, and rumours of harassment had swirled almost as long.
Labour leader Støre, meanwhile, has called for a legal evaluation of the sexual harassment claims, putting pressure on both Giske and the whistleblowers. Støre confirmed in a press release Sunday night that he’d been told of Giske’s decision and he supported it.
“I have advised Giske myself to withdraw, and therefore support the decision he has made,” Støre wrote. Another party board meeting is scheduled for Monday, at which Støre said he would clarify for the board “why I think this is the correct decision, and hope it will create calm” around the investigation process.
Dagsavisen, traditionally a Labour Party paper, editorialized that “what’s most important now is an investigation that can’t be attacked or challenged afterwards.” The paper also called on Labour “to use this situation to build up a new and more modern party culture, to present itself as a reformed organization with greater confidence in its leadership, and with greater loyalty and unity.”