Like a prodigal son returning to the fold, shamed Labour Party politician Trond Giske made his first public appearance over the weekend, back among his most ardent supporters in Trøndelag. Giske, still facing multiple complaints of sexual harassment, won a standing ovation but wouldn’t comment on whether he’ll attempt a comeback to top party leadership.
“I’m not thinking about that today,” he told a barrage of reporters in Orkanger in response to a question from newspaper Aftenposten. Nor would he directly criticize Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre or deputy leader Hadia Tajik, although he already has in written form. So has Giske’s live-in partner Haddy Njie, in an emotional email to the party’s secretary.
Giske appeared uncharacteristically humble when he emerged on Saturday with a longer beard that seemed to have greyed in recent weeks. Supporters in his home district of Sør-Trøndelag stood and applauded as he entered the room, a reaction that later brought new complaints from some other Labour Party members because it seemed to condone the sexual harassment that Giske himself has acknowledged. “It shows that we still have a ways to go in our attitudes towards women and the seriousness of sexual harassment,” one party member told state broadcaster NRK Monday morning.
Giske started his speech to around 80 Labour Party colleagues at Folkets Hus (The People’s House) in Orkanger by thanking them for their support, and then admitting that he felt almost as much dread as he had before making his first party speech there 29 years ago.
‘I am very sorry’
“I hope you understand that I am very sorry,” he said, referring to the complaints of sexual harassment, “sorry for incidents that were inappropriate and uncomfortable, for those who have had a hard time, those filing complaints, and for how this has affected those closest to me.”
With national TV news cameras rolling, Giske repeated how he “hadn’t been conscious enough” of his role as a top politician and government minister when he made improper advances towards several women. He’s been accused not just of sexual harassment but also of abusing his power. “The responsibility is mine, I have made mistakes and I have apologized,” he said. “I’m saying ‘excuse me.'”
After referring to what he called “the storm” of the past few weeks, he moved on to how he thinks Labour itself can succeed in the years ahead. The party has been in crisis since losing the last election, a crisis exacerbated by the scandal around him and his initial attempts to control it and challenge the party’s management. He has indicated that he still intends to fight to clear his name from some of the charges, and his remarks on Saturday indicate he’s not retreating as an active Labour Party member. He’s lost all his party roles, but remains a Member of Parliament since he can’t resign an elected post and the party can’t fire him.
He claimed Labour needs “all the strength, political clarity and bravery it can get to win back power. He thinks the party needs to get back in line with the labour movement itself, keep fighting for free and equal education for all, with more teachers and counselors in the schools. He spoke of education and jobs for everyone, and a need for policies that promote growth in outlying areas, “to create more jobs in the districts, and control over our natural resources like oil, hydro-electric power, fish and forests.”
Giske’s remarks were well-received, and several local Labour officials made it clear they want him back in Labour Party leadership. “He has to win back confidence again, and he’s the only one who can do that,” the proposed leader of the newly formed Orkland Labour, Trude Tevik Gulbrandsen, told Aftenposten. “Then time will tell. I want him to have the opportunity, to show he’s worthy of trust.”
‘We need to get Trond back’
Others were even more supportive. “We have a need to get Trond back as an ideologist, an organizer and to front the party’s politics in many important issues,” Jorodd Asphjell, a Member of Parliament for Labour from Orkdal, told newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). Several of his party fellows in Trøndelag feel Giske was not treated fairly by party leadership, and did not receive an adequate chance to defend himself.
Giske, who also was relieved of his position as Labour’s finance policy spokesman and head of the finance committee, has said he now looks forward to return to Parliament, where he’ll simply be a member of the committee in charge of family and cultural issues.
“As I see it, he’s Labour’s best in terms of rhetoric and debate,” said Tormod Solem Slupphaug, deputy leader of what had been called Orkanger Ap. “If anyone can make a comeback, it will be him.”