Norway´s new government coalition of the Labour Party, Arbeiderpartiet (AP) and the Centre Party, Senterpartiet (SP) of 13 October presented policies on asylum and climate that the far-right Progress Party, Fremskrittspartiet (FrP) can be proud of. The most striking far-right influences on the new government platform can be seen in even stricter immigration policies and popular promises of cheaper petrol and diesel. Facing the climate crisis and counting down to COP 26 in Glasgow. the new Norwegian government is also promising that ´common people´ in rural areas that they will continue with oil exploration to save jobs in the sector.
The leader of FrP Sylvi Listhaug has long claimed global warming is exaggerated, that little Norway can´t save the world and that the left is using ´climate´ to try and control people.
2021 Norwegian Election Campaign: Co-Opting FrP’s Lines on the Environment and Migration
The new government coalition has landed far from what was expected. During the election campaign both Labour and the anti-EU Centre Party became increasingly populist in their appeal to ´common people´ and AP chose to form a government with SP without SV, the Socialist Left party. SP´s focus on small businesses, fishing and farming communities, the precariat and decentralisation are key to their success, especially in rural areas. This approach was a threat to FrP as SP slowly co-opted several of their issues. FrP´s attempts to underbid SP in promising cheaper transport and better lives for ´common people´ fell flat. A high-profile defection from AP to SP also showed AP that SP was a serious contender.
At the end of 2020 SP polled at 22.2% and was bigger than AP (21.8%) they launched the leader Trygve Slagsvold Vedum as a Prime Minister Candidate.
SP´s appeal was broadening during a creative and professional election campaign where they used food, tractors, and regional costumes as symbols to show their connection to the land to attract voters. As a mainly rural party they have always emphasised the rural-urban political cleavage that is still very strong in Norway and has been strengthened during decades of centralisation, privatisation, and public sector cuts. SP launched a relentless attack on the ´Oslo elites´ and stressed the need to correct inequalities brought on by previous right-wing governments that had affected workers in the primary sectors in rural areas the most, but also increasingly started including the urban precariat in their agenda and rhetoric. The strategy worked and SP gained votes from FrP but also from all other parties. There are examples of local politicians from FrP who have joined SP and SP politicians who have left SP arguing the SP has become too much like FrP.
In September 2021, SP – which says it´s not left or right – ended up with only 13.5 % and FrP a close 11.6%, the mainstream right; Høyre got 20.4% of the vote, AP 26.3% , Socialist Left 6.7%, Red; Rødt 4.7% and the green party MDG polled at 3.9% . The result meant that the Left has more support among the Norwegian electorate than the right and a coalition with AP, SP and SV was expected. It is therefore a bit of a mystery how AP did not manage to form a coalition with the two parties but ended up with a minority government with SP only and a very strong left in opposition. It was a given by the media and politicians alike that SV would be part of a leftist coalition that could hold AP and SP to account on climate as well as immigration in a new government coalition mirroring the coalition with the three parties 2005-2013.
Coalition Discussions and FrP’s Lingering Influence
The coalition discussions 2021 did not last long before SV left the talks which paved the way for a more right- wing government. A heated debate about whether SP had said they had been prepared to go into government with SV or not was raging at the time as the current leader had been very unclear on the issue in communications with the press, whilst the more right-wing Ola Borten Moe, now minister of education, had categorically said ´no´, revealing a deep left- right split within SP. By taking a closer look at AP politicians and their line on immigration in particular, ruling with the left would soon have become problematic. Amnesty International says the government platform on asylum is to the right of the far-right anti – immigrant FrP.
The FrP has set the agenda and influenced Norwegian immigration policy since the late 1980s. In 2011. AP presented a new, strict line on immigration nearly identical to that of FrP. It is now being revealed how extreme some of the new AP MPs actually are. The new state secretary of health and medic , Ole Henrik Krat Bjørkholt from AP showed an admiration for the far-right Danish People´s Party´s punitive line on immigration and immigrants already in 2015 when he posted the following status on Facebook: ´criminal foreigners together with those with dangerous, infectious diseases are going to be sent to an island without daily ferry connections; a fresh move by the Danes´ .
The Danish social democrats, S, -in government since the elections in 2019 when they gained 25,6% of the vote – was praised by labour parties in Europe for winning back working-class voters from the far right. S had increasingly co-opted immigration policies pioneered by the far-right Danish People´s Party, Dansk Folkeparti (DF) and initially sent shockwaves through the left in Scandinavia with their 2018 asylum policy. In the elections in 2019 saving the welfare state and improve pensions on a welfare chauvinistic platform was top of the agenda. Their programme referred to immigrants and promised to exclude and deport foreigners not entitled to Danish welfare. Mette Fredriksen said immigration from “non-western countries” was to stop and that asylum seekers should be sent to reception centres in North Africa.
After the initial reaction in Norway and abroad that the conservative government was gone, it is surprising that AP seems to have given in to so many of SP´s demands and that they did not choose to work with the left of AP both on climate and immigration. Instead, they seem to be positioning themselves closer to their Danish Sister party. SP is also very impressed with the Danish social democrats, especially for their focus on de-centralisation.
The FrP with more than 30 years´ experience of working with the mainstream in local and regional councils, and 7 years in national government, has made its mark on Norwegian politics. Mainstream parties have co-opted one issue after the other, and for now it´s immigration and environment that seem to be the most prominent examples – taking the FrP’s mantle into the future.
Dr Mette Wiggen is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Lecturer in Politics and International Studies at the University of Leeds. See her profile here.
© Mette Wiggen. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).