“It’s time to close ranks,” Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre declared at an extraordinary national board meeting on Monday, “time to find ourselves together, and stay together.” In a 40-minute speech aimed at healing his crisis-ridden party, Støre sought to bring his former deputy leader Trond Giske’s sexual harassment case to a close, too, and carry on.
Støre, who was interrupted several times by often lengthy applause, called his party “a diverse family” that can get along. “Solo moves and a personal agenda weaken us all,” Støre claimed, in a clear message to Giske’s supporters who have accused the party of jumping to conclusions in his case.
It was a strong speech that stressed unity for a party suffering from a string of crises. Støre stressed his support for those who have filed harassment complaints against Giske, saying he knew they and others “have felt shame.” Now, Støre said, the party can learn from the “MeToo” international campaign against sexual harassment and use it in efforts to personify Labour as a party committed to equality.
He defended the process that has stripped Giske of both his party posts and, on Monday, his seat on the party’s central board. Støre reached out a hand to Giske, however, noting that the Labour Party veteran who has had to withdraw “will come back to Parliament and be part of our fellowship there, with his experience.” Støre made it clear that he did not condone efforts to abuse power and position, but that it would be possible for Giske to work towards regaining the party’s trust.
‘We’ve had enough now’
Støre isn’t alone in wanting to draw the Giske case to an end and move on. Political commentator Arne Strand wrote in newspaper Dagsavisen last week that it was “high time” to conclude the Giske affair, and that efforts to fight the decision that Giske violated the party’s rules would only damage the party further.
“Of course it’s tough for Labour folks in Trondheim to see their hometown hero go down for the count,” Strand wrote, “but they should think that they’re damaging Labour even more and aren’t doing Giske any favours if they stir up a fight over a lost battle. We’ve had enough now.”
Støre, whose own future as party leader has been put to the test, was clearly boosted by winning the central and national boards’ support. Magnus Takvam, political commentator for state broadcaster NRK, said Støre had raised his authority in the party, and asserted himself as its leader.
Crisis may drag on
Newspaper Aftenposten, however, wrote Monday morning that Labour’s crisis could drag on. The party is still licking its wounds over election defeat in September, and hurting from Giske’s efforts to distance himself from the reasons for the defeat and position himself anew as finance policy spokesman (one of the posts he’s since lost). There remains much internal disagreement within the party, not least between its Oslo delegation and those from outlying areas. The “MeToo” campaign hit hard, Giske and Støre are still viewed as representing different wings of the party (left and right respectively) and the party has been diving in public opinion polls.
Unanmous board support for Støre, however, was a crucial victory for the party leader as he prepares for next year’s municipal elections. His more left-wing party colleague Raymond Johansen, a former party leader and state secretary in the former Stoltenberg government who now leads Oslo’s city government, will be running for re-election but some are urging him to challenge Støre for the party leader post, to drum up union support and represent the working class that has felt overlooked in recent years. One thing is clear: Støre still holds one of the toughest jobs in Norwegian politics.