OSLO. Tomorrow, September 9, Norwegians will elect a new parliament.
People who worry about the future of democracy will find ample reason in the election campaign. Politics is reduced to a duel based on a specialized jargon mastered by few.
The last ten years have seen a colossal rise in of spin-doctors and information councilors. They rival the journalists in numbers: 7.000 in each category in a country of 5 million.
The process makes for a profitable business for the specialists, who are only too happy to keep the wheel spinning.
All spontaneity is gone. Crafted and groomed answers make for boring debates. Nobody dares risk any letups or gaffes.
When the Conservative Party’s leader Erna Solberg was asked if there are too many people in the public sector, she said no – in deference to her advisers, who probably feared losing voters. But this hedging reduces politics to posturing and appearance.
Downsizing the public sector is a must for a new government. It has grown by 110,000 under the green-red government and now tops 840,000. If one includes pensioners and people on welfare, the public sector encompasses more than half the adult population as dependent on the public purse. If they vote with their stomach, the outcome will be a foregone conclusion.
But after eight years people are fed up with the red-green coalition. It has run out of ideas. The coalition spells almost certain death for the leftist Socialist Party, SV, and the agrarian-oriented Center Party. The Labour Party’s embrace has been a kiss of death.
The Labour Party is itself struggling to stay afloat. Its only asset in the election campaign has been Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg. Backed by the media he has attacked the opposition as unreliable.
The Labour Party’s recurring theme has been that it fights for the common man, whereas the opposition favors the few and the rich. This is a throwback to the era of class struggle with a heavy dose of class hatred.
Harping on the opposition as caring only for the few also conveys an implicit message: the opposition is immoral and indecent. The Conservatives and the Progress Party in particular care only for special interests, Labour argues.
The Conservatives have been timid and have not really answered this smear campaign. They seem to reckon that seriousness and steadfastness will see them through.
Labour’s narrative operates at the gut level: We care for you, the others will eat you. So eat them back in return.
Maybe voters are tired of the government’s moralistic tone? Perhaps they will see through promises never kept and Labour’s gross lies that social and economic differences have been reduced during its tenure?
What the government is accusing the opposition of, it has brought about itself: vast income differences, a rise in property prices that for the first time crushes young people’s hopes of ever getting a home for themselves. Measured by its own yardstick, the Labour Party has failed miserably.
The opposition appears incapable of countering Labour’s strategy. Norway’s phenomenal material wealth seems to have paralyzed their mental alertness. Economic progress has taken on a life of its own and obviated the need for politics. Why bother with politics when the engines are running at full steam regardless? And Labour has tried to present itself as identical with this progress, and the only party capable of managing it.
Labour is less and less the party of the workingman but the party of careerists for whom politics is a profession.
But all Norway’s wealth cannot hide gross mismanagement: Norway has 750 billion dollars in its sovereign fund, one of the largest in the world, but it has a hopelessly neglected infrastructure with bad roads and a health system that shows serious signs of strain and which cannot cope with the massive population increase.
Norway has one of the fastest growing populations in Europe. It attracts workers from all over Europe and a growing number of asylum seekers and their relatives. A total of 78,500 people moved to Norway last year. Some 70 percent of the net population increase is immigration-driven.
The media and the authorities keep blaring that integration goes well and that the numbers are manageable, even though people can see with their own eyes that both claims are wrong. Norway has become a society where people live in clustered groups.
The pace, especially in Oslo, is staggering. In the course of 15 years, the city has changed beyond recognition. In 2030 the majority will be of foreign extraction and 70 percent will hail from outside Europe.
The average Norwegian has responded by hunkering down and staying mute.
The powers that be have labeled the disgruntled citizen a menace. Voicing disagreement with immigration and lack of integration is tantamount to subversion. Especially in the public sector it simply isn’t done. A policeman was recently sacked for calling the prime minister a scoundrel on Facebook. He is not the only one who has felt the lash.
Fear has crept into people’s lives – fear of saying something wrong, fear of getting into trouble. One could call it the rise of a new authoritarian Norway.
This trend will not automatically subside with a new government, but a blue-on-blue government would mean a breather. Labour thinks the oil wealth and the state are theirs. They have come to think of it as their vested interest.
After eight years in power, one might think the left would realize that it needs a break. But Jens Stoltenberg is campaigning as if it were a matter of life and death. The left believes that the country cannot do without them.
But social democracy has undone itself. Norway is ready for a heavy dose of privatization and market liberalism. Labour and the left cannot fathom that it is a direct consequence of their own policy.
This article was posted on Dispatch International Sunday September 10th. 2013