Disappointed Labour Party politicians around Norway were calling new local election results “catastrophic” on Tuesday, and claiming that their once-mighty party is in crisis. Some are already blaming Jonas Gahr Støre, the Labour Party’s long-struggling leader and current prime minister, and they’re calling for his resignation.
“He has had many chances already,” Magnus Marsdal, former leader of the left-wing think tank Manifest Tankesmie, told newspaper Dagsavisen on Tuesday. “I don’t think the Labour Party will make any major progress with Støre as party leader. I think his run is over.”
Some Labour mayors who’ve been voted out of office claim the national Labour-Center government’s policies have cost them a lot, and they’re calling for the equivalent of an accident investigations board.
“We’re not the industry-friendly and well-led party we should be,” Robin Kåss told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) on Tuesday. Kåss faces losing his mayor’s post in Porsgrunn after election results set off a new Conservative wave over most of Norway.
Porsgrunn, around a two-hour drive south of Oslo, is part of an industrial region including Skien and Bamble that’s called Grenland, and long known as a bastion of industry with a long history of Labour Party leadership. The mayor of Skien also faces being replaced after 20 years of Labour governance.
“This is a crisis, we can’t talk around that,” Skien Mayor Hedda Foss Five told NRK. “I don’t think our politics are working, they’re not helping people and they don’t think they’re important.” Støre and his party have been viewed as being in crisis earlier as well, but now the situation seems more urgent.
Conservatives also ended up winning power not only in Oslo but also in many of the towns and cities along the entire Oslo Fjord, including Halden, Sarpsborg and Fredrikstad in the south (also earlier industrial enclaves led by Labour) but also in Drammen, Moss, Nordre Follo, Frogn, Sandefjord and Tønsberg to name a few.
Top Labour Party officials were meeting on Tuesday to “digest” the grim results of local elections that knocked them out of power from north to south and east to west. “I would gladly have had a better day,” Ingvild Kjerkol, Labour’s health minister and regional chief in Trøndelag, told reporters as she headed into the meeting at Labour’s headquarters in Oslo. Her home region also took a beating after years of Labour rule.
She didn’t think the future of Jonas Gahr Støre would be discussed at the meeting, though. “Today it’s time to digest (election results) but we have a lot of work ahead of us,” she said.
Støre himself later announced that his party wants to learn from its defeat, and will conduct a survey to find out why voters chose or didn’t choose Labour. “We agree that it has been a poor election,” Støre said. “We have lost influence in many communities and power and positions that we think is bad for the people.” He seemed convinced the trend can be reversed.
Raymond Johansen, who’s spent the past eight years as Labour’s head of city government in Oslo, was also disappointed and not happy with losing his job to Eirik Lae Solberg of the Conservatives. “We will go through this,” Johansen told reporters before adding that he intended to take off for the mountains later this week.
Parliament President Masud Gharahkhani, a Labour Party leader from Drammen who also saw his hometown fall into Conservative hands, said they were dealing with “a bad election result that we must take seriously. The fact that we’re no longer Norway’s largest party after 99 years means that voters clearly are disappointed in us and had great expectations for us. We have to take that seriously.”
Ottar Skjellhaug, a board member for Labour in Nordland County, said he thinks Labour needs “other politicians who can profile the party. We haven’t succeeded with the party leadership we have today.” He lives in the historic mining town of Sulitjelma in Fauske, just east of Bodø, one of the country’s last Labour bastions.
Skjellhaug and many of his party fellows in Northern Norway are especially critical of the Labour-Center government’s recent decision to electrify the Melkøya gas process plant outside Hammerfest, in an effort to cut its carbon emissions. The problem is that will require huge amounts of electricity generation at the potential cost of other industry, and force construction of controversial wind power turbines on Sami grazing land that can set off more conflicts with both environmental advocates and Norway’s indigenous people.
He acknowledges that “Støre has a difficult job, and has to fight on several fronts.” He thinks Støre is weary and that “we should have a broad evaluation of our leadership constellation.” Several other party officials in Northern Norway were also calling for Støre to be replaced, but it’s unclear who would be candidates for the job.
Labour union officials are also calling for “a thorough evaluation” of election results. “There’s no doubt we’re disappointed today,” the leader of Norway’s largest trade union confederaton LO, Peggy Hessen Følsvik, told NRK. “This election has been an uphill battle from the start.” She said she still has confidence in Støre, but worries that the left side of Norwegian politics “just hasn’t found its form.”