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Leader: The lessons of choice

Tuesday's leadership statement in the SV warns that a quarter-century era in the party is ebbing. And that a new spring may come for Norwegian party democracy.

(PS. This article is machine-translated from Norwegian)

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Head Offices. “The 68 generation is now getting an initial release in SV. With 32 year old Erik Solheim, the party will get the youngest party leader in Norway since Oscar Torp was elected in 1923. Solheim will fight to make the party environmentally green and caring. ”

This was the case in the Civil Evening Post in March 1987, quite accurately 25 years ago. There were already prospects for the young and "modern" Solheim to take over as leader of the SV. At that time the Cold War prevailed, when "everyone" took for granted that the Berlin Wall should stand for another 100 years.

It held hard. Up until the last hours, there was doubt as to whether SV would choose the 32 year-old to lead the 4. April 1987. It was not only museum guards and former NKP-earners who were skeptical of Solheim. His openness to not say no to everything from Europe, and such as using the Greens in West Germany as a model, made him called "SV heretics" in the public spell.

In about a month and a half, a quarter of a century has passed since the current election of the current Minister of Environment and Development. Solheim was leader for ten years before retiring in 1997. In came one of his peers: the undogmatic Kristin Halvorsen, who took the party through both NATO bombing in 1999 and into government participation with the former arch enemy Ap in 2005. She has been leading the party firmly for over a decade and a half, until 10. March at 18.30 leaves the baton to his successor at the extraordinary national meeting at Lillestrøm.

Tuesday 14. In February, Heikki Holmås suddenly announced that he was retiring as a leader candidate. It happened on the 100 anniversary of Sigurd Evensmo's birth. Holmås' message came at 18.30 – just when a movie clip during the Evensmo event showed "SV's grandfather" his reasons for why he withdrew from the Labor Party in 1949.


With 34-year-old Audun Lysbakken as the new party leader, it may be a new party historical watershed. Not just because the new SV leader comes from the other side of the watershed, ie from Bergen and not the Oslo region. But also because his background is something other than that of Solheim and Halvorsen.

After a few years in government and party leadership, Lysbakken has changed from his younger years of revolutionary days, as he himself has announced. But his strongest supporters, and his biggest opponents, have probably not changed to the same degree. In this sense, Lysbakken will have a job to do to counteract increased contradictions between the so-called right and left sides of the party. For the first time in a quarter century, it can be said that the traditional left wing in the SV will now regain power over the leadership position in the party.

Outwardly, Lysbakken will probably try to hijack voters from Ap more than from Red. But inwardly, there is a job to be done to create genuine enthusiasm also among the strikingly many Holmås followers. Many of these disputed about Holmås at once Bård Vegar Solhjell withdrew – which can also be understood as a consequence of early measurements giving Lysbakken great support. But as in the US election campaigns – grass roots opinions can sway like the north wind. Party leaders' struggles can also produce surprising results, when we are only used to such things in Norway.

Healthier culture

If there is anything this historically open party leadership election has shown, it is that Norwegian politicians, parties and voters are ripe for increased democracy.

It did not go as skeptics predicted, that the influence and party votes of the party members would hurt the party. On the contrary: The opportunities to finally be allowed to express their views on what powerful nomination committees usually decide in confined spaces led to more sign-ups, increased enthusiasm and more knowledge among all parties about what the new leader stands for.

While the badly hidden AP power struggle between Stoltenberg and Jagland a decade ago led to hospitalization, conflict and electoral defeat – Lysbakkens and Holmås' honest tone has prepared the ground for a much healthier party culture.

Although the election campaign was not completed, the morale of other parties should be clear: Both politicians and voters are ripe for increased modernization and democratization in the 21. century. It is not only the fault of the people that party members and turnout decline. ■

(This is an excerpt from Ny Tid's weekly magazine 17.02.2012. Read the whole thing by buying Ny Tid in newspaper retailers all over the country, or by subscribing to Ny Tid - click here. Subscribers receive previous editions free of charge as PDF.)

Dag Herbjørnsrud
Former editor of MODERN TIMES. Now head of the Center for Global and Comparative History of Ideas.

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