The Conservative Party in Norway won the general election that took place earlier this month and for the first time the right-wing populist and racist Progress Party will enter a government.
The Conservatives (Høyre) increased from 30 to 48 seats (26.8 percent). The four parties discussing whether to form the new government (Conservative Party, Progress Party, Christian People’s Party and Liberals) together got 96 of the 169 seats.
The previous government parties (Labour, Socialist Left Party and the Centre Party) lost 14 seats and ended up with 72 seats. The Green Party got a seat for the first time. Voter turnout was high, almost 80 percent.
What lies behind this result? The simplest answer was given by a candidate for the Greens in Oslo : "There is no difference between the Labour Party and the Conservatives ... The two parties have almost identical policies, but try to maintain the myth that the most important issue in this year’s election is to choose between [their party leaders] Jens Stoltenberg or Erna Solberg."
Since 2005, Labour-led governments have pursued policies in the same spirit as right-wing Social Democratic governments in Sweden and other countries. “Market reforms” have been introduced in health care with privatisations, closures and mergers of hospitals. The policy towards immigrants has become harder and Norway has participated in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan. There is also - as in Sweden - a growing concern over the environment, especially the risk of oil drilling in the North.
The outgoing government will present a final budget in a few weeks, including lower taxes on wealth and inheritances over 2 billion NKR. On these issues, the difference between the two government alternatives is very small.
The biggest loser is the Socialist Left Party (SV), which during eight years in government took responsibility for Labour’s policies. SV got its worst result ever, and came close to not passing the four percent threshold (4.1 percent). One of the SVers who lost his seat, Hallgeir Langeland, admits in the newspaper, Aftenposten, that it was the Finance Department that ruled the last government. He also thinks that "asylum policy has been guided by an aggressive FrP [the Progress Party]" while Labour and the Conservatives have been wary not to criticise the FrP .
The new government will be announced by 14 October. Clearly, the Conservatives and the Progress Party will be included, while the smaller Christian People’s Party and Liberals might become supporting parties .
The Progress Party (FrP) dropped from 23.9 percent in the last election to 16.3 per cent in this one but will still be included in the government for the first time. The fact that the other parties accept the FrP as a largely "normal party" is a warning. There are many similarities with the Sweden Democrats and other racist parties in Europe, but also differences. FrP’s populist profile issue is that Norway should spend more of the country’s enormous oil fund, for example on infrastructure. The party leader, Siv Jensen, gives enthusiastic support to the mad right of the Tea Party in the United States and warned during the election against "climate hysteria".
But FrP’s main profile consists of racist arguments against immigration. Siv Jensen claimed during a visit to Malmö in Sweden that the city is governed by Sharia law. Even during the election campaign leading party representatives argued about protecting "Norwegian culture" against “the danger of multiculturalism". The FrP cooperates openly with islamophobic organisations. Specifically, the FrP demand that the number of refugee-immigrants is limited to 3,000 per year and that they should be forced to stay locked up in camps. They also want to put obstructions in the way of immigrant families being reunited and of marriages of immigrants.
These proposals will not directly become government policy. But they are part of the debate and it puts pressure on the other parties, which do not take issue with the FrP ’s racism.
It was Labour, and particularly its youth, that were targets of the racial terrorist Anders Behring Breivik’s slaughter and bombings in July 2011. Labour also received increased support during the short period after the attacks.
But the mass anger and sadness that existed in 2011 was not organised into a real campaign against racism and thus against the Progress Party, which Breivik was active in for many years. A large part of Breivik’s "manifesto" is the same islamophobia and hate against socialism that the FrP uses. The Labour Party’s dilemma was that the leadership wanted to morally condemn racism, but not link it together with the struggle against injustice and right-wing policies - the breeding ground for racism and xenophobia. The Progress Party got away with using a lower profile for a period to then soon take up the same old topic again.
The loss of votes for Labour and the Socialist Left Party does not show that left policies are unpopular, but the contrary; it emphasise the need for a real left and socialist alternative in Norwegian politics.