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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Complaints rise as Labour collapses

More shadows have fallen over the headquarters of Norway’s once-mighty Labour Party, as it reported more than 20 new complaints of sexual harassment filed against its politicians in the past month. Labour also faced utter collapse in the public opinion polls just as one of its former prime ministers was laid to rest late last week.

One of the darkest shadows ever has fallen over the Norwegian Labour Party’s Oslo headquarters, as those working inside face up to a sexual harassment scandal and record low voter support. PHOTO:

The drama around most all the country’s political parties continues, just a day after the Conservative Party reported 21 new complaints of sexual harassment. Both the Center Party and Progress Party had reported five new complaints each by Tuesday morning, the Liberals three, the Socialist Left (SV) two and the Christian Democrats and Greens one each. Only the Reds Party avoided any new cases of sexual harassment.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported  that Labour was the only party refusing to reveal its number of new complaints. Members of all parties have been urged lately to file any complaints they may have in the wake of the “MeToo” campaign against sexual harassment, so that they can be dealt with and move on. All the parties shared their results with the media, except Labour, which was among the first to land in serious trouble because of complaints against its veteran politician, Member of Parliament and deputy leader Trond Giske. He was later “relieved of his duties,” faces an internal investigation and is now on extended sick leave.

Labour’s secretary in charge of administration, Kjersti Stenseng, refused to reveal the party’s number of new and additional complaints “first and foremost so that those involved will be subject to the least possible media attention,” she told NRK. “We want to handle the cases with the most confidentiality possible. Therefore we won’t be reporting numbers to the media as complaints come in.”

Labour Party Secretary Kjersti Stenseng has had to try to keep smiling through one of the party’s biggest crises ever. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet/Bernt Sønvisen

Stenseng said her party had “another approach to this. I think that by securing as much confidentiality and anonymity as we can, we will lower the threshold for reporting complaints. We have experienced enormous media interest around new complaints, and that those complaining have been contacted by the media. And that makes it less secure for those filing.”

By mid-afternoon, Stenseng had changed her tune. She told NRK and other media that the number “was in the 20s,” but she wouldn’t specify. Nor would she tell newspaper VG how many might also involve Trond Giske. She told NRK that the complaints are directed at several people working at various levels within the Labour Party. All will be handled seriously.

Record low voter support
The new complaints come as Labour sank to record low levels of voter support in public opinion polls. Just as Labour announced that one of its former government ministers, Rigmor Aasrud, would take over Giske’s role as spokesman for finance policy, a new “party barometer” for January shows Labour holding just 20.8 percent of the vote, down nearly six percentage points from December.

Labour’s loss was the government-leading Conservatives’ gain, as it rose 4.3 points to hold 30.1 percent of the vote and thus tower over all the other parties in Parliament. The Socialist Left party (SV) also jumped 1.3 points to grab 7.3 percent of the vote, while the Liberals (which just joined the Conservatives-led government coalition) rose 1.1 points to 4.5 percent. The other coalition party, the Progress Party, was stable at 14.5 percent in the poll conducted by research firm Opinion for news bureau ANB.

Odvar Nordli died earlier this month. PHOTO:

The bad news also came as Labour was mourning the loss of its former prime minister from its old glory days, Odvar Nordli. He led the government at a time when Labour was still Norway’s dominant party with as much as 40 percent of the vote, or even more. His state funeral on Friday was attended by King Harald V, Labour’s embattled current leader Jonas Gahr Støre and current Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservatives among other dignitaries, all of them paying tribute to how Nordli and Labour at that time had contributed mightily to rebuilding Norway after the ravages of World War II.

Many Labour politicians miss Nordli and the glory days more than ever now, along with being able to work with politics instead of the distractions of sexual harassment cases. Some have complained that the trouble with Giske has commanded most all the party’s attention since well before Christmas. Støre himself is supposed to be leading the opposition in Parliament, but has had a huge job handling the complaints against Giske, reassigning Giske’s party duties to others and being part of determining Giske’s fate.

Labour’s former star Trond Giske has ended up causing lots of anguish for the party, after attracting complaints of sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct towards women. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet/Bernt Sønvisen

Giske still has his supporters. Kirsti Leirtrø, a Labour MP from Giske’s home district of Trøndelag, claimed in newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) lately that “a pedophile has more protection” than Giske while others have accused Giske’s co-deputy leader Hadia Tajik of being “disloyal” for not backing her colleague more vigorously and instead being “shaken” by the nature of the complaints against him.

Still others, including Labour veteran Stanley Wirak in Rogaland, have called for party unity at a time of crisis and for an end to the internal conflicts that have plagued Labour. “Shall we move on, run the party and work in politics, or shall we keep arguing over who has said or done something,” Wirak asked rhetorically in newspaper Dagsavisen earlier this month. “I hope we can now shake this off us.” He urged all Labour colleagues to ask themselves “what can I do for the party,” and “why am I a member of the Labour Party, to further my own interests or because I believe in what the party stands for?”

Others have also called for soul-searching, an end to a culture of conflict within Labour and a resolution to the Giske case.

“We need to resolve this as quickly as possible so that we can get back to politics,” Stein Erik Lauvås, Labour’s leader in Østfold County. “That’s at least the feedback I’m getting in Østfold.” Berglund



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