Media attention in Norway was directed firmly at Sweden during its dramatic national election over the weekend, but top Norwegian politicians were also out doing some campaigning of their own. The weekend marked exactly one year before voters head to the polls in mid-term local elections, and neither leader of Norway’s two biggest parties let that go unnoticed.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservative Party was very much out greeting folks, this time in Stavanger and Kleppe on the West Coast. She marched in a local gay pride parade, posed for countless selfies, and, not least, spoke before around 650 local politicians who gathered in Stavanger to get more training in campaign techniques. As newspaper Aftenposten reported, they’re the “foot soldiers” who’ll be out knocking on voters’ doors, speaking with them and urging them to vote, preferably for the Conservatives.
Solberg also used the occasion to blast locally imposed property taxes that most often have been levied by local governments led by Labour- and Center Party officials as a means of boosting local revenues. Solberg’s conservative coalition government has vowed to demand reductions in local governments’ possibility to levy property tax.
Labour Party leader Jonas Gahr Støre, meanwhile, was also out and about during the weekend, kicking off the campaign among hundreds of young volunteers who mounted a festival in the Mortensrud district of Oslo’s east side. He arrived straight from a trip to Sweden, to take part in the final phase of his Swedish sister party’s election campaign. Sweden’s Socialdemokraterna emerged as the single largest party after Sunday’s voting, with 28.4 percent of the vote before absentee ballots are counted, but the coalition they lead is running neck and neck with the conservative coalition Alliansen, and calls were going out for Støre’s Swedish Labour leader counterpart, Stefan Löfven, to resign as prime minister.
Støre’s Labour Party (Arbeiderpartiet, Ap) hasn’t even had as much voter support as the Swedes’ Labour equivalent, but is now once again slightly larger than Solberg’s Conservatives (Høyre), according to some of the latest public opinion polls. The August “Poll of Polls” showed Labour with 26.1 percent of the vote, compared to the Conservatives’ 25.8 percent. In a left-wing coalition with the Socialist Left party (SV), the Reds and the Center Party, they’d also have a majority in Parliament if an election were held right now.
Solberg’s conservative coalition has been hurt by the weakness of both her government partner, the Liberal Party (Venstre), which hasn’t even managed to claim the 4 percent necessary for full representation in Parliament. The Christian Democrats, who have the swing vote in the current Parliament based on election results from 2017, are also weak, while Solberg’s other government coalition partner, the Progress Party, has fallen to just 12.8 percent of the vote, down from the 15.2 percent it won in the last election. Progress has been battered by the forced resignations of two government ministers, Sylvi Listhaug and Per Sandberg, whose behaviour lost them the confidence of government colleagues and Parliament in recent months.
Another recent poll shows that Erna Solberg herself, however, has a solid majority of public support as prime minister over Støre as Labour’s prime minister candidate. Her popular appeal has been unwavering, with Labour facing a strong rival in her alone.
That’s why Støre is already out pressing the flesh, also posing for selfies and trying to drum up more public support so that local voters will vote Labour next fall. “We want to be out among folks and will be spending a lot of time doing so over the next year,” Støre told news bureau NTB as he wandered around the Mortensrudfestival on Saturday. Labour also set up stands around town, to meet and greet prospective voters, talk politics and hand out the party’s trademark red roses.
Solberg, meanwhile, will be visiting Norwegian cities including Tromsø, Trondheim and Bergen in addition to Stavanger and Oslo as the lengthy campaign gets underway.