Labour launches new offensives

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Norway’s embattled Labour Party was back on top as the country’s largest political party this week, according to the latest public opinion poll. Labour leader Jonas Gahr Støre is emboldened by the upswing, launching what the party itself claims are new initiatives regarding immigration and workplace issues meant to win back core working class voters.

Jonas Gahr Støre and his embattled Labour Party are coming on stronger now, and keen to restore their once powerful position in Norwegian politics before next autumn’s municipal elections. PHOTO: Arbeiderpartiet

The poll published Thursday shows Labour with 28 percent of the vote, up two full points from the last poll conducted by Sentio Research Norge for newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN). It marked Labour’s best poll result since June of last year and edged out the arch-rival Conservatives. They landed at 27.4 percent and also saw their two government partners slide again: The Progress Party held 11.8 percent of the vote, down 1.5 points, while the Liberal Party fell once again to attract just 3 percent of the vote. That’s well below the 4 percent needed for full representation in Parliament.

“This inspires us to continue some good work and sharpen our contributions heading into local elections next year,” Støre told DN. That “good work,” in Støre’s view, involves new offensives on issues “that are important in peoples’ lives. Our surge is tied to issues like more job security, better access to good elder care and a boost for families with small children.” Labour is proposing, for example, an extra week of paid holiday for parents, higher taxes for Norwegians with the highest incomes, and free after-school programs for children.

Reforms needed
Labour also claims that major reforms are needed within rules governing the workplace. They include more security and better working conditions for young workers, tougher demands for the EU to respect the so-called “Norwegian model” for wages and working conditions, and new programs to boost the competence of workers struggling with new technology and new ways of doing business.

“Young people should not be seen as fair game in the workplace,” Arild Grande, who led Labour’s group effort to formulate new policy, told newspaper Dagsavisen. “They must be met with reliable jobs and be offered pay that’s high enough to live on.” Labour is worried about workplace exploitation of young people, and wants laws restricting temporary positions.

Labour has also been rolling out the results of an internal project to re-launch the party’s platform on asylum and immigration policy. It has been met with much more criticism than the workplace initiatives, and accusations that its call for stricter rules regarding asylum and immigration all but mirrors policies long espoused by the right-wing Progress Party.

“Labour can never campaign with immigration as a banner issue,” wrote political commentator Arne Strand in Dagsavisen. He and others have also noted that Labour has in fact promoted strict immigration policy for many years, and hasn’t backed more liberal rules for “a very long time.” Newspaper Aftenposten also criticized Labour new immigration platform, which supports more funding for refugees closer to their homes and paying other countries to care for them in an effort to stem migration. The harder line on immigration is also debated within the party, and it’s highly unclear whether the tougher recommended policies will win full party support at its next national meeting.

Fending off populism
It’s all aimed, however, at winning back working class voters who in Norway and many other countries have been “lured away” from the social democratic parties to those branded as right-wing populist parties. Støre hailed both the new workplace and immigration platforms, stressing that the latter “is a reminder that uncontrolled immigration and poor integration lead to a lack of confidence and right-wing populism.”

Others claim Labour is being foggy again on where it stands, by becoming more “conservative” with its stricter immigration proposals but also more left-wing on employment and workplace issues. Støre claims his party, in the wake of last year’s disastrous national election results, is simply trying to clarify social democratic principles.

Most importantly, the party is keen to stress actual policy after a year of being distracted by internal unrest and power struggles. “We have put the period of internal unrest behind us,” Støre told DN. “Now it’s a question of more fair sharing (of Norway’s wealth). That’s become more important.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund