September 15, 2015

Election comment: Triumph of the Jonas

But the biggest achievement is that Norwegian Labour finally has cracked the code that has ridden the party the latest decades: The major cities along the coast from Oslo to Trondheim. Of the ten largest Norwegian cities, Labour only ruled in four. And of the five largest cities, only Trondheim has been a red-green lantern. In Oslo, the wilderness year numbered 18, in Bergen 12.

Now it is all reversed. In Bergen, Labour had a landslide election and is by far the biggest. In Oslo, all signs point to a change of power supported by the second victor of the election; MDG. In Tromsø there will be a change supported by Red. And in important cities such as Haugesund, Ålesund, Sandnes and Arendal, Labour advances significantly.

This success has many causes. In a national perspective, Labour has surfed on a wave of governmental wear and tear, Syria refugees and conservative double communications. But not least, the party has finally started to master its role as opposition. The clear, strategic decision to make the election a battle over tax cuts on the one hand and more money to go to welfare and to the municipalities on the other, has succeeded.

But in local elections, local issues dominate. And here, Labour has been smart, lucky and got the timing right. In Oslo, the party finally found a candidate people both knew, liked and trusted. And contrary to many sombre prophecies, it turned out the city was ready to accept property taxation. So be it that most people still want Fabian Stang to go on as Mayor, Labour did lose some votes and MDG is hanging in the balance.

In Bergen, the conservative party Høyre has been the agent of its own misfortune. After the undisputed queen of the city, Monica Mæland, went to Oslo to join the cabinet in 2013, it has been a long home alone party with a messy tram issue, division both internally and between partnering parties, the establishment of a property taxation and a police investigation of the mayor. In this mess, Labour’s unusually sympathetic candidate Harald Schelderup has emerged as the Jens Stoltenberg of Bergen and promised a clean-out and solid government.

Today, many lick their wounds. Although Høyre has had its best local election since 1987, and the 2011 election was a historic best, it is a clear defeat for Prime Minister Erna Solberg. Høyre’s local exhibition windows have been smashed and will take time to tape back together. The “Progress Party” FrP is under ten percent for the first time since 1991, haunted also by the problem of being in power while controlling its loose cannons who are out of touch with public opinion. If this is a pointer towards 2017, a blur light is burning for the conservative government project.

But before new mayors can start cutting cords, negotiations must take place. It will be a long and arduous process. In Oslo, MDG will sell itself dearly. This could mean significant changes in Oslopakke communication project, home building and car traffic. And, Oslo may gain its first mayor with a green party book.

In Bergen, Labour can go both ways; towards the centre or towards the left. City tram, drug rooms, pub hours and rush traffic tolls will be hard nuts to crack. And unless the economic tide turns, delivering on promises may prove hard.

In Tromsø, a Red maoist will become the closest partner. That will make for exciting budget negotiations.

The common denominator of these cities is that commercial players within health and care should now be concerned. The opposition to privatisation are now in power.

But one who is not worried this evening is Jonas Gahr Støre. He has succeeded where Jens Stoltenberg never did and can start his journey towards the 2017 national election with confidence.


This text was based on votes counted as per 01:30 AM