Social media in Norway was buzzing this week after a local newspaper published its own unofficial “report card” for government ministers. Fully 10 out of 22 government ministers were given the lowest possible score, while the paper itself had to endure quite a few low marks as well.
Newspaper Dagsavisen stressed that its left-leaning political commentators were merely publishing an “informal evaluation” of how Prime Minister Erna Solberg’s conservative government coalition performed in 2019. The paper also claimed that its karakterbok (equivalent of a school report card) reflects recent public opinion polls that show three of the coalition’s four parties scoring very poorly indeed. The Liberal Party, for example, sunk to just 1.9 percent of the vote in one poll earlier this week, while the Christian Democrats and Progress parties are mere shadows of their former selves. Solberg’s Conservatives have held up better, but now claim just over 20 percent of the vote, as do the Labour and Center parties.
It was the albeit tongue-in-cheek evaluations of individual government ministers, however, that raised eyebrows and even spurred unusual defense of the ministers from opposition politicians. The greatest objections were to the lowest score (just “1” on a scale of one to six) attached to Trade Minister Tørbjørn Røe Isaksen, who’s about to go out on paternity leave. Isaksen, who represents the Conservative Party, was accused of “working more to have a third child than to make a mark politically,” and for “appearing sad, self-satisfied and weary.”
“Would Dagsavisen have written something like that about a female minister?” asked Kjetil B Alstadheim, the award-winning political editor of newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) on his Twitter account. Anette Trettebergstuen, a Member of Parliament for the rival Labour Party, also sprang to Isaksen’s defense: “It’s just embarrassing to drag in someone’s private life and kids in an evaluation of Isaksen’s role as a politician,” she told newspaper Aftenposten. calling it “irrelevant” and old-fashioned. “If it was true that Torbjørn Røe Isaksen is less visible because he’s taking care of his family, I would applaud that.”
Nine of Isaksen’s ministerial colleagues also received scores of just “1,” including:
*** Health Minister Bent Høie, currently in a storm of controversy over inadequate ambulance service and hospitals in Northern Norway,
*** Labour Minister Anniken Hauglie, embroiled in the historic scandal over welfare agency NAV,
*** Digitalization Minister Nikolai Astrup, claimed to have “a job that’s really not a job” and chided over recent criticism of mobile phones for children,
*** Preparedness Minister Ingvil Smines Tybring-Gjedde, branded as being “invisible” and holding “a meaningless post” with “no mandate or responsibility for anything”,
*** Public Health Minister Sylvi Listhaug, who was moved over head the Oil & Energy ministry on Wednesday but not before being accused of using her previous ministerial posts as a “podium for her own self-positioning” and promotion,
*** Children’s and Family Minister Kjell Ingolf Ropstad, who “got his job (as leader of the Christian Democrats) after “murdering” his mentor Knut Arild Hareide and is now fumbling in the role,
*** Foreign Aid Minister Dag Inge Ulstein, described as a minister who “badly needs development aid himself” and remains highly anonymous,
*** Climate and Environmental Minister Ola Elvestuen, who’s “on the defensive” and “can’t manage to hold his government partners’ fingers off oil in the North”,
*** Research and Higher Education Minister Iselin Nybø, “Well, what can we say? Could have won some praise for finally securing some money to save the Viking Ships on Bygdøy, only to see (her Liberal Party’s leader) Trine Skei Grande stick her head out and get the credit.”
Grande herself, meanwhile, won a relatively high score of “4” from the Dagsavisen critics for being more publicly visible even though “her party may soon disappear from the political map.” She was actually praised for coming up with a new model for financing state broadcaster NRK, and because many cultural players are satisfied with her work.
The only other ministers receiving a score of “4” (the highest dealt out) were Transport Minister Jon Georg Dale, who was called the Progress Party’s “new wonderboy and chief ideologist” and is strengthening Norway’s train system, and Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide. She was praised for “wisely making preparations for Brexit” and having “good relations with partners in Europe,” but also criticized for being “more diplomat than politician” and too “invisible and anonymous” within Norway.
Prime Minister Solberg scored just a “3,” praised for realizing her dream of finally forming a coalition with a majority in Parliament but ravaged for the coalition’s “catastrophic” poll results of late. “She has almost unremarkably, bit by bit, changed Norway in line with her own ideology,” claimed Dagsavisen. Her defense minister, Frank Bakke-Jensen, also scored a “3” for letting top defense officials freely think out loud about what they actually need to improve defense capabilities. Bakke-Jensen has, however, “sunk a frigate on his watch, and reports reveal major cultural problems” among the troops. He also has “ultimate responsibility” for Norway’s biggest spying scandal ever and failed to “keep a poker face” when commenting on the retired border inspector Frode Berg who recently was released from jail in Russia.
Finance Minister Siv Jensen also scored a “3” for merely “talking about limiting spending but continuing to spend oil money like a drunken sailor.” Fisheries Minster Harald T Nesvik, Education Minister Jan Tore Sanner and Agriculture Minister Olaug Bollestad all got “3s,” too: Nesvik for “traveling around in slickers and helmets and clapping and grinning” over all the money seafood is generating, Sanner for moving some education policies to the left, and Bollestad for “trying to restore calm in her field” as she “reverses (Listhaug’s) Progress Party policies.”
Dagsavisen’s blunt language and attempt at satire wasn’t entirely well-received, however, with former political adviser, journalist and author Svein Tore Bergestuen calling it “a hybrid (of being both serious and humourous) that doesn’t work.” Bergestuen noted that he’s old enough to remember hanging out with other reporters in smoke-filled rooms and making fun of politicians, “but we were drinking,” he told Aftenposten. “I don’t know what excuse Dagsavisen has.”
Dagsavisen’s political editor Lars West Johnsen accepted some of the criticism. “If we weren’t clear enough that we were trying to poke fun, we’ll learn from this for the next time,” he told Aftenposten. “But politicians have done enough this year to deserve humour as feedback.
“We do think this is a government that doesn’t function very well, and they’re taking Norway in the wrong direction.”