Jan Tore Sanner has spent the past 18 years as one of two deputy leaders for Norway’s Conservative Party (Høyre). Now he’s decided against continuing as a perennial “number two” to longtime party leader Erna Solberg, after she confirmed a desire to continue in the top post.
Sanner told newspaper Aftenposten over the weekend that he’d informed the party’s election committee that he won’t be a candidate for the deputy leader post at the party next national meeting in early April. Nor has he decided whether he’ll stand for re-election to Parliament in 2025.
“My motivation and desire to contribute to Høyre is as strong as ever,” the 56-year-old Sanner insisted, “but I’ve come to the conclusion that this is the right time to make room for a new deputy leader. So I’m making my spot in Høyre’s leadership available.”
Sanner has loyally followed Solberg through ups and downs since 2004, and was first elected to Parliament in 1989. After hitting a low point with the election in 2005, when Labour swept into office again under the leadership of Jens Stoltenberg, the party’s fortunes rose mightily in 2013 when the Conservatives could form a minority government with the Progress Party and support from the other two non-socialist parties in Parliament, the Christian Democrats and Liberals.
Lost out to Jensen
They ruled for the next eight years. Sanner, long the party’s finance policy spokesperson, had to give up his hopes of becoming finance minister since Progress leader Siv Jensen got that job, but he did serve as a minister during the Solberg government’s two terms, in charge of local governments and education and finally as finance minister after Progress left the government.
“Half of Høyre thought we should cooperate with Progress,” Sanner told Aftenposten. “The other half thought we should cooperate with the other two centrist parties. There were stormy years, with lots of strong criticism directed at the party leadership.”
He said he rememberd receiving telephone calls with messages that “I’d better be careful not to get too tightly linked with Erna. But my answer was that my fate was sealed. We had a strategy and I believed in it.”
Sanner will be best remembered for how he and Solberg handled the onset of the Corona crisis, and how he in particular handled the financial aspects. “It was extremely demanding, but I’m also very proud to be able to say that business is strong on the way out of the crisis. That helped unemployment fall very quickly.”
‘No bad memories’
He said he has no “bad memories” from his eight years in government, even though handling the much debated regional reform program was tough. Now efforts are underway to reverse several of the most unpopular municipal and county mergers that resulted.
Sanner thinks chances are good for Solberg to form another Conservatives-led government after the next election, but then the deputy leaders will likely be Tina Bru (age 35 and now viewed as one of Solberg’s most likely successors) and either former foreign- and defense minister Ine Eriksen Søreide (age 45), Henrik Asheim (38) or Nikolai Astrup (43).
“Time will tell, we have no lack of talent in Høyre,” Sanner told Aftenposten. Solberg, meanwhile, has already signalled that she’s keen to keep leading the party and returning as prime minister, if the party wants her. “I’ve also said I’ll understand if they (Høyre’s internal election committee) wants a new constellation,” she told NRK on Monday. She has stated that she has no preferences over who’ll join her in the party’s new leadership.