The Norwegian government is struggling to lead
NEWS ANALYSIS: Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre is on the defensive after his Labor Party fell again in the opinion polls. His governing coalition partner, the Center Party, is also having problems with voters, with commentators suggesting the devastating poll results reflect a leadership problem rather than just dissatisfaction with soaring electricity prices.
That’s because the leader of the opposition in parliament, Erna Solberg of the Conservatives, is proposing a response to Norway‘s controversial electricity tariffs that is quite similar to that of the Labour-Center government. Commentators including Kjetil B Alstadheim in a newspaper post office noted how both include the state compensation offered to households that Støre and Vedum inaugurated last winter and, now, compensation proposals for businesses that are also suffering from exorbitant electricity bills. Solberg proposed corporate compensation much earlier than Støre, and the Conservatives want to introduce it faster than the government, but the aim is the same: to relieve businesses and preserve the jobs they provide.
So speculation is flying about why Solberg’s Tories have made huge gains in recent polls, clearly to the detriment of Labor and the Centre. Newspaper Dagsavis was the first to report last week how voters were ‘running away’ from Labor and the Center and shifting their support to the Tories (Høyre). The survey conducted by the research firm Opinion which Dagsavis had ordered with the ANB press office and VenFagbevegelse left Solberg with 29.1% of the vote, Labor collapsing to just 19.3% and the Center to 6%. That’s a huge drop from last autumn, when Labor and the Center won the election with 26.3 and 13.5 percent respectively.
The center has since lost more than half of its voters, and the results were bolstered in another poll this week conducted by research firm Norstat for state broadcaster NRK and post office. It shows Labor with just 19.4% and the Center with 5.9%, similar to the results of another newspaper poll TB. In total three, Labor won less than 20% of the vote and the two government parties combined have less electoral support than the Conservatives alone at or around 30%.
It’s a hard blow, if not an embarrassment, to Labor and the Centre, both of which also suffer from in-party infighting and power struggles. “A divided and weak defensive government is clearly not what people want in times of crisis,” commentator Hege Ulstein wrote in Dagsavisen. The harsh assessment came just before the leaders of the nine parties represented in parliament are due to gather for a nationally televised debate on Thursday evening in Arendal, where this year’s annual political and social event known as the Arendalsuka was ending.
Støre and Vedum tried to explain their poor results in the polls by noting how they have been forced into crisis management mode since taking over from Solberg, who had been Prime Minister since 2013. The Corona crisis has erupted again Last fall and winter, electricity and fuel prices were already rising, and then Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, bringing war to Europe once again. They are now facing an energy price crisis, if not an energy crisis itself, as well as a sudden spike in the rate of inflation that prompted the central bank to raise interest rates again. Thursday.
None of this is popular with voters, and whoever is in power gets blamed. In this case, however, Solberg couldn’t offer much difference to Støre and Vedum, leaving his sudden jump to 30% of the vote (from an election result of just 20.4%) a bit disconcerting. Ulstein thinks it comes down to how a government and a prime minister approach difficult times.
“In other words, this is also about Støre’s leadership,” she wrote, noting how exceptionally high energy prices are dividing the government and Labor itself. Støre’s former Labour’s rival, Trond Giske, appears to be making a surprising comeback even after having to resign in shame over sexual harassment charges well before the election. He openly challenges Støre’s leadership, while Støre also has a history of wavering on issues and lately giving in to the Center Party. He has been criticized for first defending electricity exports to Europe and then backing down on such support, if reservoir levels linked to hydropower plants fall below a certain level. He also opposes a cap on electricity prices, but his government was assessing a so-called “maximum price” last month.
“It inspires opposition,” according to Ulstein. “When will Støre, as prime minister and party leader, come forward with authority and show who’s boss?”
Solberg, meanwhile, is as sure of her leadership role as like any top politician can be. She is unrivaled within her party, managed to keep her own minority coalition government in power for eight years and won public respect for her handling of the Corona crisis. However, voters grew weary of Corona at election time last year, and few governments are re-elected twice. From now on, according to the polls, she would be at the head of a solid majority in Parliament.
“Good public opinion polls inspire everyone in the party,” she told NRK ahead of Thursday night’s debate, which focused almost solely on the reasons for the high and various electricity tariffs. proposals to remedy this. She believes her party lost voters last year for “strategic reasons” behind various coalitions, “so we hope to win them back and others”.
Støre and Labor Party Secretary Kjersti Stenseng are concerned about their poor performance, with Stenseng calling their polls “far too low for Labour”. Of course we have ambitions… at the same time, we understand that these are difficult times for many. Støre has been warning about this for the past year.
Støre also came under pressure and criticism local politicians from his party on the cancellation of the forced mergers of municipalities and counties, and from Norway‘s largest trade union federation, LO, which was disappointed that the Labor Party and the center had not accepted enough demands of the Socialist Left Party (SV) to set it up. the coalition government. This left Labor and the Center with a minority coalition dependent on SV support. LO also challenged the government by supporting a ban on nuclear weapons, something hard for Norway to accept as a NATO member no matter who is in power.
Then came a new investigation published in the newspaper Klassekampen Friday. This shows that 66% of respondents do not believe that the Støre government is handling the electricity situation well. Even Labor mayors across the country are not happy and fear that some companies will go bankrupt with bills four times higher than they were just two years ago.
As if that weren’t enough, another new survey this week indicates that 49% of voters prefer Erna Solberg as prime minister, while 31% prefer Støre. The survey was carried out by Norstat for NRK, and Støre admitted the numbers were “sharp”, but he attributed it to all crises “affecting people”.
“The signal from voters is clear,” said Gjesdal Mayor Frode Fjeldsbø. Klassekampen. “The government doesn’t know. We must take this seriously. Reports emerged on Friday that Støre’s government will offer compensation to companies that will ban them from handing out dividends while receiving government support. This is also what the employers’ organization NHO also supports, so there could be a majority in favor of it at an extraordinary session of Parliament on the issue next month.
Center Party leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum is under the same pressure to ease electricity bills in his rural constituency which often demands government subsidies and now compensation for high electricity bills. Labor and the center themselves are often at odds over energy policy, prompting commentator Frithjof Jacobsen in the newspaper TB to speculate earlier this summer that perhaps the Center will use the energy crisis as an excuse to quit government, return to opposition in parliament and rebuild voter support. The center, often accused of being populist, behaved better in opposition than in position and could then freely criticize and complain without being responsible for solutions.
Any fall in government could usher in Solberg and her partners, backed by polls suggesting ‘a solid basis for a change of government and a new non-socialist government’, as she told the newspaper. post office after the poll showing his party with 30 percent. She made it clear that she was ready to take over if Støre’s government fell.
It’s not ideal, however, with war raging in Ukraine and Putin keen to seize on any sign of division or lack of unity within Western democracies. Many had breathed a sigh of relief that Støre was in fact prime minister when Putin invaded Ukraine, since Støre has a strong international background as a diplomat and foreign minister in the governments of his predecessor Jens Stoltenberg. Støre is also multilingual and widely regarded as highly intelligent. However, these assets are not always useful in brutal party politics. Støre nevertheless appears determined to ride out the storms and has denied that cooperation within his government has deteriorated.
“We know we are heading into a year that will demand a lot from us,” Støre told NTB. “Norway is a small country surrounded by fairly rough seas. We have good resources to get through this with a soft landing, but I think I’ll take every opportunity to stress that we’re going to face a very difficult year ahead.