Political opponents claim it’s a sign of desperation that Progress Party leader Siv Jensen called them the equivalent of “goddamned socialists” during the party’s annual meeting this weekend. They think the party’s dive in public opinion polls is prompting Jensen to resort to such rhetoric in the run-up to difficult local elections this fall.
Jensen, who also serves as Norway’s finance minister, felt forced to apologize after her uncharacteristically rough language at the party’s formal dinner Saturday night, which also celebrated her upcoming 50th birthday. “This has to be the best kick-off (to the upcoming municipal elections campaign) in the world,” she claimed from the podium during her dinner speech. “Now we just have to roll up our sleeves, roll out of here, and crush those goddamned socialists (jævla sosialistene).”
Reaction was swift, and Jensen had to spend much of Sunday defending herself to the media after top politicians from the left side of Norwegian politics had complained mightily. Knut Arild Hareide, former head of the Christian Democrats who now share government power with Jensen, declared that Jensen “should take her words back.” Socialist Left leader Audun Lysbakken said he thought Jensen’s comments, captured on video at an otherwise closed session of Progress’ annual meeting, would actually mobilize more voters on the left: “There will only be more ‘goddamned socialists’ after this,” he wrote in an email to newspaper Aftenposten.
Jensen’s remarks also caused more trouble for Prime Minister Erna Solberg of the Conservatives, who dislikes such tough talk and leads the government in which Progress sits. Now Solberg will have to answer for Jensen in Parliament after Anette Trettebergstuen, a Member of Parliament for the Labour Party, demanded an answer a written question: “What does the prime minister think about the finance minister wanting to ‘crush the goddamned sosialists’?'”
Newspaper Aftenposten editorialized on Monday that it’s possible Jensen just got carried away for a change by the mood at her own 50th birthday party, because she generally is viewed “as a serious politician” not given to making such polarizing remarks. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) had run a profile of Jensen that very evening on its nightly nationals newscast in which Jensen herself, interviewed in casual clothes while out on a walk in the hills around Oslo, had described herself as “much more mild” than she’d been as a younger top politician. She said she also regretted making a derogatory remark about former Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg after Progress won government power for the first time ever, along with the Conservatives, in the election of 2013.
Yet there she was, in a golden party dress, all but sneering at the opposition in Parliament. “I said it with a twinkle in my eye,” Jensen claimed to reporters demanding her own reaction to the opposition’s reaction on Sunday. “I didn’t shout it, like some say. It wasn’t said during a political debate, it was said under a festive Progress Party dinner. I have great respect for my political opponents, so this has been over-exaggerated.”
She also claimed her comments have been “taken completely out of context. But if some of my opponents feel offended, I apologize for that.”
t was a rare apology from a party known for enjoying provocation, not least by politicians like Sylvi Listhaug who made a major comeback during the weekend after also being reappointed as a government minister just before the party’s annual meeting began. She and another former minister, Terje Søviknes, who had to withdraw from national politics nearly 20 years ago after having sex with an underage party member, were elected as deputy leaders. Most party members and political commentators think Listhaug is being groomed to take over for Jensen when she eventually resigns as party leader.
Progress Party members, meanwhile, have reason to be satisfied with their annual meeting, if only because it rallied the troops at a time when the party is no longer Norway’s third largest. Progress is only commanding around 10 percent of the vote according to recent polls, losing a third of its voters since the election in 2017. Progress, always known as a protest party, hasn’t been able to deliver on all its demands since joining government. Instead of cutting or eliminating road tolls, they’re higher than ever, as are local property taxes. The party vowed to get rid of a so-called “document fee” that amounts to a hefty tax on the sale of property, but it’s still charged. The government is using a lower percentage of oil revenues every year, not more to invest in infrastructure like Progress wanted, and now it’s even lost the agriculture ministry to the Christian Democrats, meaning farmers are much more likely to prevail in their subsidy demands and the high prices that come with high tariffs on imports.
Now Listhaug, as the minister in charge of public health and elder care, is promising better food in nursing homes even though she’s the former Oslo politician who ushered in industrial kitchens dishing up vacuum packed food for elderly patients that’s simply warmed up.
The party also handed a problem to its leaders in government by voting to replace road toll revenues with money from the Oil Fund. Even Listhaug admitted that’s unrealistic with no majority to push it through. Another proposal to forbid construction of controversial wind turbines on land was voted down, to the relief of Jensen and her fellow ministers.
Progress’ troops were rallied, however, and appeared relatively unified despite a year of scandals and political losses behind them. Some worry that the more moderate and rational party officials have been replaced by harder-core right wingers. Prime Minister Solberg now needs to keep them in line through the next national election in 2021.