Geir Lippestad is best-known as the defense attorney for some highly controversial clients. He’s also been active in the Labour Party in Oslo, though, and is now moving on to the national scene by leading a brand new party that aims to grab new voters in the upcoming national election.
Lippestad surprised everyone last fall when he announced how he, some frustrated left-leaning members of the Christian Democrats and some impatient Greens Party members were trying to set up a new centrist party called Sentrum.
They succeeded, gathering more than the necessary 5,000 signatures over a nine-week period to become registered as a political party. He said it “warmed his heart,” while it surely sent some shivers down the spines of other parties whose voters Lippestad is keen to grab.
“Right in the middle of a pandemic, and at a time when most people show their engagement by pressing on a visual thumb button, folks actually printed out our form, filled it out, bought a stamp and found a mailbox,” Lippestad told newspaper Aftenposten not long after the he and his new colleagues met their goal.
He had thought digital signatures would suffice, but even in hyper-digital Norway, the rules demanded signatures on paper. Around 7,800 ended up actually responding, accordng to Sentrum’s website.
Last month Lippestad held his first speech as party leader, which itself was held in a digital format because of Corona restrictions on meeting in person. Sentrum reported in its own press release that a total of 108 people participated from around the country, and listened to Lippestad talk about “social sustainability” and making inclusion the party’s biggest issues.
“We want to have an overall policy of applying the UN’s sustainablity goals in a Norwegian context,” Lippestad said. “All our politics will be built on sustainable goals.” Also, the party notes, on human rights and promotion of both diversity and equality. The party’s motto is “Leave no one behind.”
He also stressed that Sentrum doesn’t want to remain a small party. It currently has 562 paying members. The goal is to present lists of candidates in all of Norway’s 19 election districts in September, when Norwegian citizens will head for the polls.
Lippestad knows something about dealing with outsiders, having defended alleged neo-Nazi Ole Nicolai Kvisler and the right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik, who bombed the Labour Party government’s offices in 2011 and went on to massacre 69 members of Labour’s youth group AUF. Both were sentenced to lengthy prison terms by Norwegian standards but Lippestad felt they also had a righth to defense counsel.
Lippestad and his wife also have seven children and a daughter who died in 2013. He’s led state commissions on equality and against discrimination, been a member of the board that oversees compensation to patients subjected to malpractice in Norwegian hospitals, been secretary general of the national federation for the deaf, on the board of the group that supports clowns who entertain children in hospitals and led the board of the Labour Party-backed think tank Agenda.
The list goes on. After being active in his neighbourhood district for the Labour Party he was named city government leader in charge of business issues in Oslo and served from 2015 to 2017, when the city got caught up in a major residential property scandal. Lippestad suddenly resigned, and ultimately left Labour.
Keen on climate and immigration
Now he’s keen, through Sentrum, to lead new efforts to form more hospitable asylum and immigration policy, phase out the oil industry within 15 years, support Norway’s trade agreement with the EU and function independently of other political blocs in Parliament. In practice, however, Sentrum is likely to be on the left of center.
Election researcher Bernt Aardal said the new party is likely to hurt the already-struggling Christian Democrats hardest. It already has attracted former Christian Democrats’ deputy leader Dagrun Eriksen and the leader of its youth group is Simen Bondevik, grandson of former Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik. Several members of the Greens Party have also signed on.
Lippestad and his party colleagues are now busy working on their party program heading into the parliamentary election. It’s due to be ready March 1.