Both the governing Labour Party and the opposition Conservatives have tumbled in public opinion polls again. That, in addition to disappointing election results, boosts prospects that Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre will make some changes in his government line-up, also to better be able to criticize his rivals.
Norwegian media outlets are reporting that Støre is pondering whether to replace his foreign minister, Anniken Huiteldt. The timing isn’t ideal, given all the international crises at present, but Huitfeldt is mired in conflicts of interest over her husband’s stock trading. So is Conservatives leader Erna Solberg, but Huitfeldt’s situation makes it difficult for Støre to lash out at Solberg over the such similar offenses.
Støre has earlier supported Huitfeldt, who continues to insist she wasn’t aware of her husband’s investment activity. That was before Solberg landed in the same trouble and now Støre’s unusual silence on the Conservatives’ woes appears deafening. Both Labour and the Conservatives face serious issues of waning public confidence.
That was evident in the latest public opinion poll conducted by research firm Opinion for newspaper Dagsavisen and FriFagbevegelse. It showed Labour tumbling below 20 percent of the vote again (19.3) while the Conservatives lost more than three points to land at 25.1 percent. Political commentators contend both of the so-called “steering parties” in Norway need revitalization, although Labour is struggling the most with its unpopularity.
Removing Huitfeldt would allow Støre and other Labour Party officials to comment on the scandal around Solberg but could also catch criticism. That’s because both Huitfeldt and Solberg are among those called in to a special hearing in November on several conflicts of interest among top politicians, four out of five of whom are or have been members of Støre’s Labour-Center coalition government. It may seem unfair to replace Huitfeldt before the committee makes it own evaluation.
Espen Barth Eide, currently Støre’s often-criticized minister in charge of climate and environmental issues, has emerged as the leading candidate to take over as foreign minister if a change is made. He held the post during Jens Stoltenberg’s government after serving as defense minister as well.
There’s also been reports that Støre will make some other personnel changes in his cabinet and, according state broadcaster NRK, even add a new ministerial post in charge of digitalization and artificial intelligence. Støre has also been advised to bring Labour’s outgoing but popular mayor of Stavanger, Kari Nessa Nordtun, into the government.