This article was originally written for, and published in Aftenposten.
When I came to Norway three years ago I was delighted to learn Norway had proportional representation, and a Socialist Workers party that was not only significant but in power. I became a member almost immediately. Since then, as I have learned more about SV and watched their sad decline, I have grown exasperated and disillusioned. I am not going to bemoan the compromises they made while in government: that was understandable if not condonable. Rather, I am deeply saddened by how SV in opposition have failed to become relevant or even likeable to Norwegians. SV appear like the trivial hipster wing of Arbeidspartiet: the sort of people who think the term Champagne Socialist is a complement.
SV comes off like it disapproves of most of the electorate. That is why they only got 4% of the vote. However, that 4% voted for SV has little do with the policies or the politicians in the party. They should be understood as the residual minimum SV should expect. These loyalists vote on an idea, a memory, a dream of what SV could be.
When exactly did the socialist workers party stop employing people who have worked in real life? From the outside, SV looks like a state sponsored job-vehicle to employ young privileged Oslovians. Too many times to count, I have discovered that people who share my socialist values, not only do not vote SV, but hate SV. The right must laugh themselves to sleep at night. What a stroke of luck that the left-wing party in Norway is led by career politicians, gradually self-harming themselves to death.
Opposition is the time for big ideas, big criticism and big battles. SV seems intent to fiddle with the deckchairs while Høyre and co sail into the iceberg. First, for the love of God, shut up about barnehager. Sure barnehager are important – nobody could disagree – but that is the point: you can’t define yourself with policies so obvious your enemies agree.
Economists hold up Norway as the puzzling star of mixed economies: where prudent and well-meaning state interventions have produced the closest we have to utopia. And yet now unrestrained SV remain obsessed with pragmatic but boring details. In opposition you should be making noise, rattling cages, painting a big picture of the society you want. In SV’s case this should mean making the case for when and where and why you think the state has a role to play in Norway. Ask the right to clarify when, why and where they think the state has a role to play. Tell the story of how Norway got here, and ask the right to provide any evidence (not theory) of why privatisation will make things better. At the moment they are attacking the low hanging fruit (weather forecasters, and NGOs), but they have not been forced to say when or whether they will stop.
But start explaining when why and where you think private sector should be. At the moment people believe SV is blindly pro-state and anti-business. Provide vocal support for sectors where business should dominate. Believing the state has a role to play in society does not imply that all sectors should be state ran.
Celebrate the Norwegian story. Most Norwegians I have met seem to believe that once you struck oil everything they now enjoy was inevitable. Well it wasn’t: striking oil is actually correlated with underdevelopment and war to such an extent that social scientists have named the phenomenon the “resource curse”. Indeed, I come from Britain where Thatcher sold the oil to pay for a huge recession. We have no pension fund; the rightside’s ideology – the same ideology “Blå-Blå” explicitly idolise – would not permit it.
This is just one example, but Norway’s spectacular standard of living is based on several successful state interventions. And critically, this is a success built on long term policies that the current government would and could not have done, and seem intent on (slowly) reversing. This is the story SV should be shouting. Remind the people of what got us here: social democratic principles. Norway needs a strong party to the left of Arbeidspartiet to balance “Blå-Blå” otherwise the centre ground will shift permanently, and the society we now take for granted now will continue to be eroded and eventually disappear. In short, Norway needs SV.
At the moment prospects could scarcely be bleaker: the most recent poll showed SV at 2%. I have heard talk that 4% would be considered a success. This is hogwash. SV in opposition should get 10%; solidarity and caring about your neighbour should not be a tough sell in Norway, the land of the dugnad. What is required is imagination and people that relate to ordinary Norwegians. SV needs an internal revolution.