The Norwegian elections this week were the first since the bomb and gun attacks by Anders Breivik that killed 77 people, most infamously the 69 members of the Labour Party’s youth group on Utoya Island. During the fall out of this terrible event the Labour party and its leader in government, Prime Minister Jans Stolenberg, attained positive approval ratings from the public, as well as a great deal of support and sympathy, made even more acute by his stoic handling of the events. However, with the election results in, the public’s good will seems to have evaporated and some have heralded a small but decisive lurch to the right in Norwegian politics.
At first it is hard to understand why Labour could have lost this election. They were lauded for their handling of the Breivik atrocities, safely navigated the financial crisis that plunged much of wider Europe into concurrent recessions and instead presided over a booming economy with low unemployment (around 3% before the election). However it seems Norwegians are looking for something new. This Labour government has lasted 8 years, a long time in the coalition based, ultra-proportional world of Scandinavian politics. Though, as mentioned, economic disaster was averted, some Norwegians feel that more could have been done such as moving the economy away from the oil industry, which it currently relies on heavily. The Conservatives and PP had been campaigning for a diversified economy and a wave of privatisation to further boost the economy. Labour also suffered last year when an investigation found the police response to the Oslo bombings and Utoya island massacre to be lacking, subsequently undermining the wave of sympathy and support the party had enjoyed in the fallout of the attacks.
Despite this, Labour do still remain the largest single party in the legislature. It is simply a lack of allies to team up with that has lead them to concede to Erna Solberg and the Conservative lead centre right coalition. A lurch to the right this certainly isn’t despite, Solberg’s claims of “victory” for the centre right in Norway. The Progress Party (PP) is playing king-maker, shoring up a large percentage of the vote, even though a young Andres Breivik was an active member until he lost his faith in democracy. Indeed, since then, PP has transformed from a far-right fringe organisation to a more centrist, mainstream party. Since the 2011 attacks it has toned down its anti-immigration rhetoric, cut loose some of its more militant speakers and taken great pains to present itself as a legitimate, mainstream party, more UKIP than BNP. Coupled with many Norwegian’s refusal to allow the Breivik atrocities to have an influence on Norwegian politics, the attacks of 2011 have been mentioned very little in the campaign, neither side wanting to bring it up for fear of being seen to use the murder of 77 civilians as a base for political point scoring. PP still have not convinced everyone however, and many of the Conservatives traditional allies, at the time of writing, are holding out on entering a governing coalition because of fears over whether they are as centrist as they purport to be.
The only real mention of the attacks in the campaign have come from the few dozen survivors of the Utoya Island massacre who stood as candidates on the Labour list. Many survivors had become totally disillusioned with politics, but those standing remained defiant. Vegard Wennesland, who spoke to NBC news, felt the attacks had reaffirmed his “motivation towards democracy,” and had simply provided evidence that an open multicultural approach to immigration was far more preferable to the fear and mistrust that more stringent and rigorous immigration policies, such as those advocated by PP, could lead to.
Thus though Norway may look like it has managed to nobly overcome the horrific attacks by Breivik in 2011 simply by refusing to allow them to affect their political process, for some such as those that survived the massacre at the Labour youth camp it is difficult to forget. There certainly has been no lurch to the right for Norwegian politics either. Though the Conservatives and PP have forced the incumbent to step down after the next budget, Labour still remains a powerful political force with a strong youth movement with a commitment to the continuation of Labours goals and an admiration for its achievements.