Drama and power struggles within the Norwegian Labour Party launched into yet another round after the party concluded that its suspended deputy leader Trond Giske had broken its rules against sexual harassment. Giske responded by launching, though lawyers, what Norwegian media branded as a “frontal attack” on Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre and the party itself.
Giske, who remains on sick leave tied to the pressure he’s under, claims he has not been given an opportunity to formally respond to the complaints against him. The complaints have been filed, in the wake of the international “MeToo” campaign against sexual harassment, by numerous women including at least one prominent Labour Party politician who claim he’s sexually harassed them, forced them into “uncomfortable” positions and abused his power as a high-ranking politician. Their complaints stretch back over many years, with several of them stemming from Giske’s time as a government minister in the former left-center coalition led by Jens Stoltenberg, currently the secretary general of NATO.
Giske attempted to take control of the crisis building up around him just before Christmas, appearing on Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK)’s widely watched nightly national newscast Dagsrevyen and apologizing for behaviour he claims he didn’t realize was offensive. He has claimed that some of the complants against him were “groundless and false,” also defending himself on social media.
Giske has had lengthy meetings with both Støre and Labour Party Secretary Kjersti Stenseng, to relate his version of events and reportedly defend himself. Støre claimed on national radio Friay morning that he has spent more time listening to Giske than he has listening to the women complaining of his behaviour.
Støre also told NRK and other media including newspaper Aftenposten that Giske was given the opportunity to submit his own written response to the complaints in addition to his sessions with top party leadership, but has not done so.
Støre, armed with orders from the party’s central board to resolve the situation, thus issued a press release Thursday evening (more than a month after Giske made his last public statements in his own defense on national TV) announcing that the party had completed its review of the complaints against Giske. The party concluded that “several” violations of the party’s rules against sexual harassment had occurred, and its evaluations in each case had been forwarded to both the women complaining and to Trond Giske. The party declined further comment on the nature of the complaints “out of consideration” to those complaining.
Women ‘glad and relieved’
Several of the women, most of whom have remained anonymous, told NRK after the party’s conclusions were released that they were “glad and relieved” that Støre and other party leaders had acted. “The most important thing for me is that he (Giske) no longer will be in a position where he’ll be allowed to continue abusing the trust he’d been given,” one woman told NRK. Several others were also relieved that the party’s own investigation wouldn’t drag on, a view shared by other party members keen for politicians for Labour, which has been diving in public opinion polls, to be able to turn their attention back to political work and leading the opposition in Parliament.
Giske remains a Member of Parliament, because of a tradition in Norway that prevents elected officials from resigning or being removed from their posts in the absence of criminal charges. He has either resigned or been “relieved” of all party posts, though, and also lost his seat on the Parliament’s powerful finance committee and his position as finance policy spokesman for Labour.
It’s up to the women involved to file any charges against Giske that would prompt a police investigation, with Støre saying the party’s evaluation is now completed. The case appears far from over, however, given strong reaction from two lawyers representing Giske who claim he was not allowed to sufficiently respond to the complaints against him.
Giske’s lawyers ‘highly critical’
“We are highly critical that the Labour Party in reality has acted both as investigator and judge in these cases, without having the independence necessary to act impartially in both relations,” wrote lawyers Christopher Hansteen and Frode Sulland (the latter a high-profile defense attorney in Norway) in a press release of their own late Thursday.
They claim to be speaking on Giske’s behalf since he’s on sick leave and thus “not able to put forth is version.” The lawyers contended the party had reached its conclusions “without tilsvar (response) from Trond Giske,” and that “breaks” with the party’s “fundamental principles of justice.”
Støre continued to firmly reject the lawyers’ assertion on Friday, adding that since Giske already has withdrawn from his party posts, the party would have no further reaction to his violations. The party, according to its press release, “expects that our representatives conduct themselves in line with our values and our guidelines for how we believe women and men should be met in our organization. This responsibility weighs extra heavily on our top representatives.”
The party has continued to receive additional complaints of sexual harassment in recent weeks and stated it would “handle them in line with our routines.” The party has also appointed a commission, led by Pål Lønseth, to go through its guidelies and routines regarding how sexual harassment is handled.