Political earthquake ‘shocks’ the capital

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After sliding in the national public opinion polls for months, Norway’s deeply troubled Labour Party is all but crashing in Oslo. It’s the latest crisis to hit the party that’s also lost several top officials in recent weeks and is plagued by deep internal division. 

PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Oslo’s City Hall will be hit by a political shake-up if new public opinion poll results evolve into election results next year. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

Results of a new poll reported in newspaper Dagsavisen Tuesday show that Labour has lost fully 40 percent of the voter support it won at the last local elections in 2015. Voters are clearly disenchanted with how Labour has led the city government since then, with the party’s share of voter support falling to 19.4 percent from the 32 percent claimed on the last local Election Day.

The poll, conducted by research firm Respons for Oslo’s branch of the Conservative Party, also shows that the left-wing Reds party has more than doubled its share of voter support, jumping from the 5 percent it won in 2015 to 11.8 percent in the poll counducted this month. The Socialist Left party (SV) also did well, jumping to 8.9 percent of the vote from the 5.4 percent actually won in the last election.

The Greens Party (MDG), which shares Oslo city government power with Labour and SV, also climbed, from 8.1 percent at the last election to 9.3 percent. Political commentators quickly noted how the Greens and the Reds, which are often allied on environmental and other issues, together can form a bloc that’s now bigger than Labour.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, tower over them all in the new poll, with 35.8 percent of the vote, up from 31.8 percent in 2015. Its former city government partner and current national government partner, the Progress Party, also rose, from 6 to 6.7 percent of the vote, but both of the other non-socialist parties (the Liberals and Christian Democrats) lost voters and only hold 6.7 percent of the vote together.

Labour’s ‘destructive political civil war’
That means the left-wing parties still have a slim majority in Oslo but the poll results are nothing less than another huge disappointment for Labour. After losing last year’s national election, Labour has lurched from one crisis to another, not least as a result of the sexual harassment charges filed against its former deputy leader Trond Giske. That in turn set off another power struggle within the party that’s reportedly plagued by rumour mills and deep division, now even within its longtime solid chapter in Giske’s home district of Trøndelag.

Some commentators have likened the turmoil within Labour to a “destructive political civil war.” Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported this week that female voters have especially been abandoning the party. The leader of its youth organization AUF, Mani Hussaini, is stepping down and several top aides to party leader Jonas Gahr Støre have also resigned in recent weeks. Even Støre’s departing press chief, Camilla Ryste, admitted to newspaper Dagsavisen on Tuesday that the party had failed to communicate the political strides it has made as leader of the opposition in Parliament during the past session. Policy issues have been utterly overshadowed by all the drama within the party itself.

Raymond Johansen, current head of Oslo’s city government, is a former national secretary of the Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet) who also has served as a state secretary in the former left-center national government. A new public opinion poll suggests he’s not doing well at all, though, as head of Oslo’s city government. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

Back on the local level of politics in Norway’s biggest city, Heidi Nordby Lunde, leader of the Conservatives’ Oslo chapter (Oslo Høyre), said she was “a bit shocked” by Labour’s huge loss of voter support. She thinks, however, that the new poll numbers confirm a trend that’s been developing over time, with the more far-left socialist parties like the Reds and SV pulling Labour farther to the left as well.

“We’re seeing that in Parliament, too, where Labour is more often voting with the Reds,” Lunde said. “In that sense, voters may soon have a clearer distinction between the socialist and non-socialist sides.” Labour and the Conservatives have often been accused of having more similar positions than either cares to admit. Now they may emerge as more decidedly on the left and right sides.

Lunde also thinks the numbers show that voters want a change in Oslo, which has been hit by high and rising property tax and controversial crackdowns on vehicular transport in and around the downtown area. Labour’s policies, often a result of forced cooperation with SV and the Greens, are simply not popular after creating much more expense and practical, everyday problems for Oslo residents. Even trades workers like plumbers, electricians and carpenters who traditionally vote for Labour complain that they no longer can take on jobs in downtown Oslo because they can’t find parking for their vehicles.

Oslo isn’t the only area where Labour has lost voter favour. One statistician who tracks polls and political trends, Terje Sørensen, told newspaper Bergens Tidende that he thinks Labour will lose as many as 80 mayor’s posts around the country in next autumn’s local elections. “Around 50 of today’s mayors from Labour risk losing their posts to the Center Party,” Sørensen said, based on Labour’s decline in a string of recent polls.

Reds cheering the most
The Reds have the most reason to celebrate, as their voter support climbs at both the local and national level. The Reds recently claimed 5.3 percent of the national vote in a poll conducted for DN, making them bigger than either the Liberals or Christian Democrats and doubling the support that ushered Reds leader Bjørnar Moxnes into Parliament as its lone MP last fall. He’d have several more colleagues if current support evolves into election results.

“It’s clear that our support is taking Labour in the correct direction,” Moxnes told Dagsavisen on Tuesday. He thinks the voter dynamics will remain through to next year’s local election (and, hopefully, the next national election in 2021), because “the Reds are growing at record speed, also in our number of members, and folks in Oslo see that we’re needed.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund