Norwegian politics and the democratic outlook? Blood is thicker than water.

Norway routinely – and rightly! – scores high on surveys regarding living standards, transparency, standards of governance, and so on.

But judging by an article in Vårt Land, we are approaching a greying area, where figures of power start to share beds, lives, families.

The Labour party tops the list of political parties where positions are family heirlooms. Here, the PMs secretary Mina Gerhardsen whispers some words of advice to PM Stoltenberg. He is son of former PM Stoltenberg, whereas she is married to the political advisor to Justice minister Storberget. She is also the daughter of a a very powerful political couple now divorced, and significantly, she is the grand daughter of the nation builder Einar Gerhardsen PM for the Labour Party in post-war Norway. Her sister Marte is also in a position of power, yet they have not been elected to their positions.

This very interesting article outlines the apparent degradation of the representativeness of our political elites, in particular that of the current red-green coalition, but best exemplified by the pervasive inbreeding of the Labour Pary, direct quote from the article itself (unauthorized translation):

My grandfather, was the mayor of Alta and Kautokeino, while my mother was council member in Tvedestrand. There has always been Labour politicians in our family, says Gina Lund. She is state secretary at the Ministry of Labour, and married to department director Hans Jacob Frydenlund at the Foreign Ministry. He is the son of late foreign minister Knut Frydenlund.

The article makes reference to a public enquiry published in 2003, Power and Democracy in Norway (apparently only in Norwegian). Chapter 3 of this enquiry analyses the representativeness of our leaders; The erosion of popular representation and the retreat of politics, here are some cherry picked items from page 17 and 18 of same (unauthorized translation and shortening of paragraphs):

The parties are locked in a struggle between the mass party and the network party. They have lost their  historical profile such as organization, political profile and social class attachment.

The MPs (or other officials) are consistently more radical than their electorate, and the distance between the voter and the parties is more pronounced in matters relating party doctrine.

The elected officials of Høyre and the progressive Party are more to the right than their voters, whereas the MPs from centrist, the Socialistic Left and Labour parties are markedly more to the left than their electorate The same is true for other political and economical issues as well as religion, moral, environmental policies.

There is no correlation between the voters and MPs view on central policy questions

There are principally two ways the relationship between the voter and the MP can erode the popular will; whether or not the composition of central organs reflect  there election results and how the MPs vote once they have been elected .

In forming a government in Norway, negotiations and cross party deals is more important than the outcome of the election, and as such the Norwegian system is a form of negative parliamentarism; the Government does not depend on active support from the majority of the national assembly, but must at least be tolerated by a minority.

Back to the VL article, where one of the authors of the report,Johs Hjellbrekke  says (unauthorized translation):

It is a different matter to obtain political positions through a nomination processes and election, than through the government apparatus. When selecting who gets to sit in a government, the internal networking of the individual parties play a much greater role.It is called circulation of the elite when political positions stay in the family, mainly through two channels, friends in powerful positions who open the door to entry level positions at an early stage of the career. Also, such persons have more access to relevant information regarding career moves through their established networks.

Professor Per Selle at the institute for comparative politics at the University of Bergen says the concentration of power is greatest in the Labour Party:

The Labour Party has, to my knowledge, never really wanted to address in any way the potential problems related with these realities.

Such relations are problematic and the more unknown they are, the more problematic they become. Somebody centrally ought to address this, there ought to be certain limits to what extent political elites can be family- and friendship based  in a democracy.

There are too many parallels to systems we do not like to compare ourselves with.

This is not only a legal matter, but goes to the core of the legitimacy of the system and can certainly promote the contempt of the electorate.

Even for somebody like me, who works with this area, there is a limit to how much confidence I can have in a system that is based  on who you know and who your friends are.

In the past several weeks, there has been a strong focus on how Norway relates to Israel, and how representative these policies are of the Norwegian popular will.

The Labour party is the biggest party in Norway, but like everybody else, with a dwindling membership. One MP is currently on her way to the Mediterranean, where she hopes to bust Israel legal blockade of Hamas.

It is interesting to note that the party congress this year voted overwhelmingly to support the establishment of a Palestinian state, but threw out a proposal to let disabled people have a greater say managing their personal needs. This is an old claim that goes back over 20 years and enjoys massive support among the electorate as well as the organizations. The last center-right government proposed it as a law in 2006, but the red-green coalition threw it out also then. How representative of the Labour Party’s voter base is the decision to let Palestine take precedence over the most vulnerable in our society?

Our FM Støre has been hand picked for the high office he holds. It caused not a small stir that he had in fact never been a Labour party member.

Støre is currently being groomed to become the next PM of Norway. On the matter of never having had a constituency of his own has been sorted out in the following way. The top leadership of the Labour party has imposed his place in the Central committee, in the process trashing party policies anchored in its manifesto to ensure more women and more regional representation in this most powerful body. Not to mention the hurt feelings of all those who have worked tirelessly for their constituency for many years, shoved out in the cold to make room for yet another man over 50, from Oslo!

This may be real politik, but is it representative?

To paraphrase the theologian Bernt Torvild Oftestad: The Labour Party has reinstated feudalism – through the back doors!