Left win in Norwegian election

Norway went to the polls on Monday September 13th to elect a new parliament. The result is a landslide win for the centre-left, reports Mike Phipps.

Norway’s Labour Party leader, Jonas Gahr Stoere, was expected to begin negotiations to form a coalition government after his party succeeded in ending eight years of conservative rule in a campaign focused on the country’s oil industry and climate change.

Preliminary results showed that Labour, together with their left-leaning allies in the Socialist Left and the eurosceptic Centre Party, won 100 seats, up from 81 currently. A minimum of 85 seats is required to win a majority in the 169-seat parliament.

To form a viable Cabinet, Stoere will need to persuade partners to compromise on policies ranging from oil and private ownership to Norway’s relations with the European Union. “If the projections prove correct, Stoere could form a majority consisting of Labour, the Centre Party and the Socialist Left,” noted one analyst.  “Getting the rural-based Centre Party and the mostly urban Socialists to govern together could be difficult, however, as the two take different views on issues from oil to taxes.”

Switching to renewable energy was a key theme in what some dubbed the ‘climate election’. The release in August of a United Nations report on the irreversible impact of global warming, as well as deadly floods in Germany and Belgium, and fires in Greece and Italy, made climate emergency a central issue for many voters, who called on their leaders to confront the environmental cost of Norway’s oil and gas industry.

The Labour Party position on this is more cautious than both the Centre Party, which made the biggest gains in the election, and the Socialist Left, so negotiations among the three likely coalition partners could prove delicate. The oil industry accounts for 14% of Norway’s revenues, employs nearly 7% of its work force and has fed a $1.4 trillion sovereign-wealth fund, the world’s largest.

Audun Lysbakken, leader of the Socialist Left, said: “Everything indicates that there is no way to power and a majority in the new parliament that does not go through us – and we will use that power.” Negotiations could have a major impact on fossil fuel production in Norway, western Europe’s largest oil and gas producer, with the Socialist Left opposing further exploration, the Guardian reported. Labour meanwhile take a far more gradualist approach.

Keir Starmer was quick to tweets his congratulations to Norwegian Labour. But while it is good to see an upswing in the fortunes of democratic socialism in Europe after years of decline, if not wipe-out in some countries, there are few crumbs of comfort for the UK leader in this result. Norway’s Labour Party went up just 1% on its 2017 showing, in one of its worst ever performances at a national election.    

And if moderate progressivism is all the new coalition has to offer, there is little reason to think that Norway’s Labour Party will break the mould of that country’s politics. It lost decisively in 2013, despite being cushioned from the economic slump by its oil revenues, due to its growing adoption of a neoliberal agenda, tough workfare policies and participation in imperialist wars in Libya and Afghanistan.

Labour dominated Norwegian politics throughout the second half of the 20th century, but as elsewhere, it grew to be dominated by a managerialist ethos promoted by the middle class professionals who increasingly made up the Party’s membership. Since the turn of the century, the Party has been strongest when leaning to the left. 

A 2000-1 minority Labour government implemented an extensive programme of privatization and deregulation and other policies from the Tony Blair playbook. So unpopular were these ideas with voters, that in 2001 the Party hit an historic low with just 24% of the vote.

But under pressure from the unions and social movements, the Party moved to the left and campaigned alongside the Socialist Left and the Centre Party on an anti-privatization platform in 2005. It won the election, and formed what some called the most progressive government in Europe. But as grassroots pressure subsided, the government slid increasingly to the centre and lost popular support.

Today, Norwegian Labour is still a few points behind where it stood in 2013, when it lost, leading a coalition of the same parties it is expected to go into government with today. It seems unlikely that the compromises involved in such an endeavour can lead to any meaningful renewal of a democratic socialist project for the country.

The new government that is expected to be negotiated has been heralded as a ‘red-green’ coalition, although it won’t include the Greens, who won just three seats and failed to make it over the 4% threshold that entitles it to additional seats to compensate for the gap between a party’s national share of the vote and its constituency seats.  The far left Reds, however, did pass the threshold and get extra seats.

So whether the Norwegian result is the start of a comeback for democratic socialist parties in Europe is too early to say. The five countries in the Nordic region will soon all be governed by left-wing governments. All eyes are now on the Bundestag elections in Germany later this month, where for the first time in the history of the Federal Republic, no incumbent Chancellor is running. For the first time since 1949, change is inevitable.

In 2017, the German Social Democrats had their worst ever result since World War Two. They polled 21%, only to sink even lower  – to 15.5% of the vote – in 2019’s European parliamentary elections. Currently, however, the SPD, under their new candidate for Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, is poling well ahead of the conservative CDU, whose candidate to replace Angela Merkel might best be described as hapless – if not incompetent, given his questionable management of Germany’s worst floods in living memory earlier this year.

Labour Hub will provide a full report on the outcome of this election later this month.

Mike Phipps is editor of the Iraq Occupation Focus e-newsletter, available at https://lists.riseup.net/www/info/iraqfocusHis book For the Many: Preparing Labour for Power was published by OR Books in 2018.

Image: Jonas Gahr Støre. Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/olfnorge/49621530873/. Author: Norsk olje og gass, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

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