• Norway's news in English
 
app_header_v3

Jens Stoltenberg: How the orator fell from glory

Richard Orange · 6 Sep 2013, 09:05

Published: 06 Sep 2013 09:05 GMT+02:00

The last time people outside Norway saw much of Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg he was a hero. 
 
The speech he made in the wake of Anders Breivik's twin terror attacks two years ago, calling on Norwegians to "answer hatred with love", struck a chord world-wide -- not least because of the contrast with America's aggressive response to 9/11. 
 
But next Monday, the country's voters are poised to kick out the centre-left coalition he heads, and instead vote in the right-wing Conservatives for the first time in eight years.  
 
So what went wrong for the leader so telegenic that he has topped a list of Hottest Heads of State ever since Ukraine's Yulia Tymoshenko got voted out and thrown into jail? 
 
Bernt Aardal and Frank Aarebrot, two of Norway's most astute political analysts, both blame the the inquiry into Breivik's attacks, which reported in August last year.  
 
"It was an absolutely devastating critique of the police and Norway’s ability to deal with any crisis," Aarebrot, a professor of politics at the University of Bergen, argues.  "And it really scarred the Labour party’s image of being the party of good governance in Norway." 
 
Aardal, Professor of Politics at the University of Oslo, argues that the report effectively cancelled out the impact of Stoltenberg's inspiring oratory. 
"That removed to a large extent the positive reactions that he received after July 22, 2011." 
 
Support for Labour had shot up to 40.5 percent in the aftermath of Breivik's attacks, giving the party a huge lead over the Conservatives on 22 percent. 
 
But after the 22 July report was published a year later, the Conservatives took the lead, with the support of 34 percent of voters to Labour's 29.7 percent. 
 
Stoltenberg's personal popularity declined along with that of his party. 
 
Just weeks after the report was published, Conservative leader Erna Solberg eclipsed Stoltenberg as the country's most popular choice for Prime Minister for the first time.
 
Aarebrot believes that the loss of faith in Labour as the party of good governance has made it suddenly vulnerable to attacks from the right on the way it runs the health system, elderly care, and social welfare. 
 
"Politics is more than rhetoric," Christian Tybring-Gjedde, one of the leading figures in the populist Progress Party, told The Local, when asked about why Norwegians no longer remembered Stoltenberg's famous speech. "There are many things about Norwegian society which people are very much disappointed with. Despite our enormous wealth, we have huge problems in our infrastructure." 
 
Most analysts agree that Stoltenberg's chances of keeping his job after the election on September 9 are close to none. 
 
"Something extraordinary would have to happen to prevent a change of government," Aardal told AFP. "Something never seen before in a Norwegian election."
 
Partly this is simply because after two terms, Norwegians are ready for a change. 
 
"For for a government to be in charge for eight consecutive years is very rare in Norway," Aardal told The Local. "Two thirds of Norwegian governments are minority governments, and they haven’t succeeded in winning a second term."
 
That's why the right-wing opposition have sought to paint Stoltenberg as tired and complacent. 
 
"I think he’s happy to lose," Tybring-Gjedde said. "If you’re PM for 12 years, which is the alternative, you have a huge responsibility and no excuses you can bring. I don’t think he actually wants to win." 
 
Despite this, Stoltenberg has managed to outshine all of his political rivals in the campaign -- starting with the bold stunt of going out in a taxi and picking up passengers, ostensibly to hear their views "from the gut". 
 
"He is the star of the election campaign," Aarebrot declares. "He looks like he’s running for an election for the first time in his life. When the newspapers rate the televised debates, he comes top of just about every rating." 
 
Story continues below…
Aardal argues that Stoltenberg's good looks and likeability mean he is still popular with most Norwegians. 
 
"I think he’s well respected. He’s a very likeable person and generally, he’s a very close to people. When you see him out among them in the crowd, he walks up to people and shakes their hands. Solberg seems to be a little more distant." 
 
Stoltenberg's campaign performance has nudged him ahead of Solberg in popularity once again, but it hasn't managed managed to rescue his party. 
 
Indeed, the better Labour does, the more right-wing Norway's next government is likely to be. 
 
If the Conservatives win by a slim margin, that will give them no choice than to go into coalition with the populist Progress Party, which is likely to get a greater share of the vote than the Liberals and the Christian Democrats put together. As a result, Progress will gain incredible leverage. 
 
But Norway may not have seen the last of Jens Stoltenberg. He may have already been prime minister for eight years. But at 54, he's still young
enough to give it another go in five years' time. 
 
 
 

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Norway issues new Zika advice for pregnant women
File photo. Flickr: coniferconifer

Norway issues new Zika advice for pregnant women
1 hour ago

Health officials have new recommendations for minimizing the risk of contracting the Zika virus through sexual conduct.

Extreme Islamism and far-right pose threats to Norway
Justice Minister Anders Anundsen and PST head Benedicte Bjørnland presented the nation's terror assessment in Oslo. Photo: Terje Bendiksby / NTB scanpix

Extreme Islamism and far-right pose threats to Norway
20 hours ago

Although Norway's overall terror threat is slightly decreased there are still several factors that threaten the nation.

Chinese fund offers $1.2b for Norway's Opera web company
Photo: Opera

Chinese fund offers $1.2b for Norway's Opera web company
23 hours ago

UPDATED: The world's fifth most used web browser may soon be in Chinese hands.

Russian spying can 'damage' Norway: PST
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: Scanpix

Russian spying can 'damage' Norway: PST
1 day ago

In its annual threat assessment, PST said that Russian spies have major “damage potential” for Norwegian interests.

After 36 years, 'mystery films' shown in Norway
The American sent himself the package in 1980 but never picked it up. Photo: Kjell-Erik Ruud/Instagram

After 36 years, 'mystery films' shown in Norway
1 day ago

As proof that sometimes mysteries are better left unsolved, Tuesday’s public viewing of three film reels left unclaimed in a Norwegian hotel for 36 years was somewhat anticlimactic.

How to vote as an American expat in Norway
Even if you won't be anywhere near this ballot box in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire – or anywhere else in the US – you can still take help decide the next US president. Photo: Mike Segar/Scanpix

How to vote as an American expat in Norway
1 day ago

As The US presidential voting season is well underway with the first primary elections in New Hampshire, The Local looks at how American citizens can cast their ballots from outside the US.

'Aggressive elk' no match for Norway kids with snowballs
Photo: Paul Kleiven / NTB scanpix

'Aggressive elk' no match for Norway kids with snowballs
1 day ago

It takes more than an angry elk to scare Norwegian nursery children.

Norway 'lost' 661 asylum seekers in January alone
UDI said many of the 'lost' asylum seekers will likely "show up in some way or another". Photo: Torstein Bøe / NTB scanpix

Norway 'lost' 661 asylum seekers in January alone
2 days ago

The number of asylum seekers who 'disappeared' within Norway in January was higher than any single month last year.

Tourist brought 125 kilos of Norwegian coins to Oslo
The coins totaled 220,970 kroner and weighed 125 kilos. Photo: Toll

Tourist brought 125 kilos of Norwegian coins to Oslo
2 days ago

A most unusual find for Oslo customs officials.

Norway’s climate quotas have not led to emissions cuts
Photo: Håkon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix

Norway’s climate quotas have not led to emissions cuts
2 days ago

Five years after fulling joining the EU quota system, there have been no real reductions in Norway's emissions.

Sponsored Article
US taxes and FATCA: 'The time for hiding is over'
National
Norway police to go back to being unarmed
Health
Norway ads use Hitler teddy bear to scare parents... about dust
National
Migrants: Norway 'sending us to death' in Russia
Norway under fire over tough new asylum plans
Health
Norway doctors push plan for 'tobacco-free generation'
National
Norway's call to remove crosses causes backlash
Politics
Norway tightens asylum policy to cut numbers
Society
The end of the expat? European cities fight for innovative 'inpats'
Education
Hiker finds 1,200-yr-old Viking sword in Norway
National
Oslo eyes ban on private cars from city centre in green push
Culture
Family shocked as The Scream appears in a freshly sawn plank
National
AS-IT-HAPPENED: Nobel Peace Prize announcement 2015
National
Norway armed forces to get organic underwear
International
Syrians cross Norway's Arctic border on bicycles
Society
Norwegians reveal the (hilariously inaccurate) origins of the Danish language
National
Norway man built secret child's room in cellar
Education
Norway starts school for Vikings
Sport
Sepp Blatter should win Nobel Peace Prize: Putin
2,222
jobs available