By Trond Sverre Kolltveit – CWI Majority Norway
In October, the Norwegian government removed two of its citizens from the infamous Al-Hol refugee camp in Syria. One, a seriously ill five-year-old boy, the second – his mother. Without treatment in Norway, the boy would die and the authorities did not want to separate mother and child in the condition that he was in.
In January, they finally returned home, triggering a governmental crisis. The right-wing populist and racist Progress Party (PP) left the government, which also consists of the Conservative Party and the two small parties, the Liberal Party and the Christian People’s Party, claiming that the mother has had links to ISIS. She herself says that she travelled to Syria because of her husband, but that she today distances herself from ISIS.
She was arrested immediately after landing on Norwegian soil. Although it is not certain that she will be convicted of any crime, Islamophobic sites have published her name. This can lead to threats against the lives of both her and the child.
The Progress Party said that this was the straw that broke the camel’s back and that they are now forced to leave the government. They mean that the Liberal Party and the Christian People’s Party have been able to put forward more of their politics in government than PP has. But PP has unfortunately been able to push through a lot of their racist policies. Conditions have become increasingly worse for refugees and asylum seekers. So-called “unreturnable” refugees who cannot be deported are no longer allowed to work or receive healthcare or education.
The Progress Party has presumably been planning to leave the government for a long time, just waiting for an excuse. They have performed poorly in opinion polls for a long time and last summer, their support fell to 8 percent. In Oslo, the radical left party, the Red Party, has more support. By leaving the government, they hope to reverse this downward trend. They will sharpen their racist tone to win back their core voters. PP believes that their voters think the government is grey and boring, and that they no longer recognise their party.
But the real reason why the government has become increasingly unpopular is precisely because of the policies that the Progress Party has supported! They have supported the centralisation of government agencies, cuts in public spending and privatisations, the attacks on the welfare state while inequality has increased with large tax cuts for the wealthiest. It was opposition to this that allowed the left to make gains in the municipal elections last autumn. The anti-women proposal to change abortion legislation and weaken abortion rights was answered by mass protests.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg from the Conservatives now has to rely on PP votes on every single issue in Parliament. It is understandable that many people are happy that the PP has left the government, but the government’s policies in the future will stay roughly the same. The Progress Party will “criticise” the government from the right and at the same time, step up the Islamophobic and racist rhetoric that is their trademark, in the hope that it can secure a majority in next year’s parliamentary elections. As a result, the Conservatives are not too concerned about this split in the government.
There has long been majority support in the polls for a change of government. Even if the social democratic Labour Party has had low levels of support in the polls over a long period, the parties to their left, the Socialist Left Party and the Red Party, have had good support. In the last municipal elections, the Labour Party had their worst election since World War II, with just 24% and no significant increase since then. The difference between the Labour Party and the right-wing parties is difficult to see, they often vote the same way in the parliament. The membership of the Labour party has declined, with many social democrats and union representatives joining instead the Socialist Left or the Red Party. The membership of both parties has increased significantly since the right-wing government was formed in 2013. The Red Party has quadrupled its membership and now has 10,000 members. It is possible that the Labour Party will put forward left-wing rhetoric in advance of next year’s election, but it’s unlikely that they will put it into practice.
The Red Party has stabilised above the election threshold (4% of the national vote) after the successful municipal elections where they focused on the fight against increasing inequality. But the positive trend may very well turn around unless they and the Socialist Left change their focus from parliamentary work to actively participating in and mobilising for the struggle that is taking place across the country: against centralisation, cuts and the privatisation of welfare, for example, of local hospitals and helicopter ambulances, as well as against growing inequality and racism.
The majority of the population think it was right to bring home the child and mother from Syria. 57 percent are in favour, with just 28 percent against. It is only among the Progress Party’s voters that a majority opposed this. It is now important to step up the fight against racism. An already weak government is now even weaker. Mass protests are needed, not least from the trade unions, against anti-worker politics and rising inequality, while highlighting a clear socialist alternative to increasingly aggressive neoliberal policies. It is far from certain that this “new” government will survive for long.