The latest national elections resulted in another term for Norway’s so-called ‘red-green’ coalition, a three-party alliance led by the hugely dominant Labour Party, with their partners the Socialist Left Party (SV) and the agrarian Center Party, providing the extra ballast needed to hold a parliamentary majority.
Nearly ten years ago, if memory serves, I was asked to write a special edition type of news brochure about the Norwegian political system and elections, part of a test project to develop spin-off products that could be commercialized for the Aftenposten English service.
It went down well with everyone concerned, but like most AE projects, it never got off the drawing board. Not even the files were preserved, though some cardboard box somewhere around here has at least one hard copy of an approved dummy.
It was a tough assignment; not only to make a potentially dry and technical subject interesting, but to cover the political spectrum without sounding too pro or anti anyone.
With this in mind, and from a personal blog rather than newspaper viewpoint, here is an updated mini-guide to Norwegian politics.
The Labour Party (Ap). Led by Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, have been the leading party in living memory and the architects of post-war Norway – a strong state, social policies, strongly linked to unions. Showing signs of following the UK ‘New Labour’ path, with increasingly murky stances on typical issues like the environment and immigration that blur their traditional platform. The prominent Socialist party, though even in Norway the S word is becoming less popular.
The Conservative Party (H). The standard opposition, but no longer the major party on the right\non-socialist side, having lost this role to the Progress Party (FrP). In the US the Conservatives would doubtless be considered a left of center party.
The Progress Party, which I like to tag ‘populist’, is the only Norwegian party with a fighting chance of being considered right-wing from a US point of view. Though it has roots in rather unpleasant opinions that won it comparison with ultra-right wing parties in France and the UK, even at its most extreme the FrP has been most often compared with Thatcherite Conservatism by media outside of Norway.
The FrP has been Norway’s second largest party for a while now, and has cleaned up their act considerably. Their zeal for privatization, low brow topics and disdain for climate issues mark them as a distinct departure from traditional Norwegian values.
The FrP has also been characterized by charismatic, inflammatory leadership, with Carl I. Hagen passing on the baton to Siv Jensen – in Norway women really can do anything, even run a tough political party with a very masculine image. Hagen’s repertoire of attention grabbing tactics included constantly referring to state media channel NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting) as ARK (Labour Party Broadcasting).
The Socialist Left have dropped in popularity since joining a government for the first time, in the previous election. The most avid environmental party, their inability to stamp clear left-wing policy on the far less red Labour led government has eroded their voter base.
The Center Party (Sp) are as mentioned agrarian, and therefore for more ‘district’ policies, looking out for the more far-flung Norwegians, in what is a far-flung country. Most famous for torpedoing efforts to get Norway to join the European Union.
The Liberal Party (V) is Norway’s oldest, and after the latest election, one of the smallest. Recently part of minority center-right coalition governments with the Conservatives and the Christian Democrats, their colorful leader Lars Sponheim took his hat and went back to the sheep farm after their disastrous 2009 result. Centrist parties in general seem to be suffering as Labour and the Conservatives gradually coalesce in this spectrum.
The Christian Democrats suffered a similar fate, and they and the Liberals were accused of being punished for absolutely refusing to take part in any coalition with the Progress Party.
I don’t quite follow this reasoning – if their supporters wished to punish them by changing their vote to more clearly support a right-wing coalition government by voting for the Conservatives or the FrP, then surely these votes stayed on the right and so had no impact on the final result. But I am told it is far more complex than that apparently logical explanation.