Introducing...Jonas Gahr Støre
Norway’s newly elected prime minster is no stranger to the management of political power. The election of 61-year-old Støre can be seen as part of a larger swing back to the moderate Left in northern Europe in general, and Scandinavia in particular as, from Stockholm to Berlin, neoliberalism’s discontents nudge politics away from overtly market-friendly forms of capitalism. In its extent, it’s an impressive shift that touches several countries but it doesn’t cut deep enough. At a time when climate politics is demanding radical moves away from carbon capitalism, this new wave of business-friendly social democrats feels like pretty small beer.
Støre, and Norway, are perhaps the most interesting case of the lot. There can be little doubt that Støre’s brand of social democracy sits close to the business-friendly Right. Originally a Conservative, he became a protégé of the renowned former Labour Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtlund, serving her first by running the Prime Minister’s Office, and then followed her to the World Health Organization in 1995 where he became her chief of staff. He joined the Labour cabinet during prime minister Jens Stoltenberg’s Blairite government of 2005 and helped preside over the largest privatization of industry in Norwegian history. A millionaire himself, he is associated with a small clique of Oslo business known as the West End Executives.
What makes the rise of Støre and Norwegian Labour into government significant is that it is happening during a visible shift to the Left in a country that is one of Europe’s main producers of petroleum. Ecological issues reverberated throughout the October campaign to such a degree that it was termed ‘the climate election’. The results actually saw a slight decline in Labour’s support with the big electoral victors being parties to the Left of Labour: the Socialist Left Party, the Red Party and the Greens all gained seats under Norway’s proportional system although, even in combination, they still remain far from office. Støre is in a minority position and must make common cause with the farmer-based Centre Party to form a government. Despite his reputation, Støre and Labour ran on a programme tilted to the Left and made an alliance with the Socialist Left. The Conservatives under Erna Solberg had annoyed many Norwegian voters with so-called tax reforms that actually made the tax system less progressive.
Under these circumstances, pressure on Norway’s government is likely to come from the Left and the environmentalists. On the table is a demand to halt future oil and gas exploration, which since the late 1960s has been pumping petroleum receipts (14 per cent of national revenues) into the national budget and topping up the world’s largest Sovereign Wealth Fund. So far, despite high levels of electrification in its transportation system and calls – even from the International Energy Agency – to halt further oil and gas projects, the Norwegian political establishment is proving stubbornly reluctant. Yet if Norway, one of the richest countries in the world, is unwilling to make this sacrifice, who will? The 2019 binge-worthy Netflix series Occupation on the politics of oil in the country (no spoilers) may yet foretell some of the mounting tensions that threaten to roil Norwegians in the not-so-distant future.