NEWS ANALYSIS: It’s been seven weeks since voters in the Norwegian capital dumped their former Labour-Greens city government. Most thought the Conservatives won, but their leader in Oslo wound up struggling to form what’s now just a new minority coalition with the Liberals that has to rely on support from the right-wing Progress Party and the Christian Democrats.
It’s ironic, since Eirik Lae Solberg led the Conservatives’ chapter in Oslo that won nearly 33 percent of the vote. He was thus destined to take over as leader of Oslo’s city government from Raymond Johansen, whose Labour Party won only 18.5 percent. The Conservatives’ Anne Lindboe also seemed assured of becoming Oslo’s new mayor, and she has.
Both Solberg (no relation to Conservatives leader Erna Solberg) and Lindboe had to nonetheless endure nearly two months of political quarreling initiated by Hallstein Bjercke of the Liberals, which won 9.1 percent of the vote in Oslo. The Conservatives and Liberals generally get along well and have shared government power for years both at the local and national level.
Bjercke, however, was intent on maintaining a green profile for Oslo and didn’t want to run the capital with the pro-oil- and much more conservative Progress Party. Bjercke even tried to get the Greens Party, which governed Oslo with Labour and the Socialist Left Party for the past eight years, to switch sides and join the Conservative-Liberal coalition. The Greens, which won around 10 percent of the vote, wasn’t interested and then reportedly tried to lure the Liberals over to the leftist Red-Green side.
The quarreling dragged on, most of it behind closed doors, while Bjercke also resisted joining a coalition with Progress. Nor did Progress want to govern with him and the Liberals, or support a government that it wasn’t a member of itself. Various Norwegian media reported on Monday that Progress’ national leaders had finally stepped in and ordered a compromise of sorts, to keep things as conservative as possible in the capital.
That resulted in the minority coalition of just the Conservatives (Høyre) and the Liberals (Venstre) that Solberg presented on Tuesday, along with an “agreement for political cooperation” with Progress (Frp, which won 6 percent of the vote in Oslo) and the small Christian Democrats (KrF, 1.7 percent) over the next four years.
The four parties agreed on the Conservatives’ Solberg as government leader and Lindboe as mayor, but also that Progress’ Julianne Ofstad would become vice mayor and Progress’ Magnus Birkelund would lead the city’s environmental- and transport commission. That led to muttering within Progress that the party had opted for position over politics, even though Progess also prevailed in securing more funding for road paving projects in Oslo that had been consciously neglected by the anti-car Greens and Labour parties.
Solberg, who’d wanted a majority government with all four parties, can console himself with their majority on the City Council, and that all agreed Oslo needed a new city government as well. They’ll now negotiate city budgets and tackle political issues together, including cuts and planned removal of property tax on homes in Oslo, promotion of more new and affordable housing projects, cheaper public transport, construction of more nursing homes and more public-private sector partnerships in the health sector.
The list goes on, as the new government must deal with the high cost of living in Oslo, a lack of health care workers, youth crime, labour shortages and transport issues while also trying to keep cutting carbon emissions. They’re all aware of how voters grew weary of the former government that had imposed property tax in 2015 on a promise from Labour’s Johansen that it would only amount to “a few hundred kroner” a year and that its revenues would fund improved elder care. Eight years later that “few hundred kroner” had evolved into thousands, even ten of thousands of taxes tied to rising property values, while elder care scandalously declined. City fees on most other services also shot up.
What angered many voters most of all, though, was how the Labour and Green parties also removed more than 5,000 parking places around the city and replaced replaced them bicycle lanes that often go unused. Street parking that used to be free suddenly cost even residents several thousand kroner, if it could be found. Calls to build bicycle lanes where they were most needed, not least in the valleys of Maridalen and Sørkedalen, were mostly ignored and left residents irritated, not least when rules for street parking where it still exists could quickly change and leave motorists with large fines or cars towed away.
“It was time for a change of power in Oslo,” editorialized newspaper Aftenposten in September. The capital is now greener, new schools have been built and the city was well-guided through the pandemic, Aftenposten wrote, but the former “Red-Green” government often set questionable priorities and ended up with large budget overruns on major projects. “Eight years is a long time,” Aftenposten wrote, as the Conservatives and Liberals now embark on the next four.