BODØ (Nettavisen): Erna Solberg has started the long election campaign against next year’s municipal elections. Recently, she was in Northern Norway, where the Conservative Party was the mayor’s party after the 2011 election, but now does not have power in a single city.
Nettavisen met her in Bodø, which is one of many cities where the Conservatives can win back power.
Recent polls mostly show the Conservatives progressing everywhere, compared to the party’s weak election in 2019. In several places, including Bergen, Halden, Sandnes, Stavanger and Tønsberg, it may be moving towards Conservative rule, new polls show.
– This may indicate that our people have good answers to the discussions that take place around the kitchen tables in cities and towns across the country, says Conservative deputy leader Henrik Asheim to Nettavisen.
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He has taken the trip to Northern Norway together with the party leader, where they will both show their presence and learn about local issues.
– We lost many – some in 2015 and some in 2019 – and I think we can win back many of the big cities, says Solberg.
Høyre currently has the mayor in just over 30 municipalities. Outside of Asker and Bærum, you have to go to Sandefjord (65,000 inhabitants) to find the largest Høyre municipality. Next on the list are Larvik (48,000) and Molde (32,000).
Solberg highlights some of the cities that it would be extra great to win back.
– I think it’s nice to win back Bergen. It would be very nice if we win back Oslo. The challenge in Oslo is primarily around the other parties.
Solberg also highlights the city she visits, Bodø. Her last fisheries minister, Odd Emil Ingebrigtsen, has returned to the football city to become mayor. In the local press, he is considered the favorite after the well-liked Labor mayor Ida Pinnerød announced that she is resigning.
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– It would have been nice to get through here in Bodø. We have been so close in the last two elections. It has been out of control. Odd Emil I think has a great chance of becoming mayor, but we have to fight for the voters every day, she says and lists what she believes to be Ingebrigtsen’s strengths:
– He is well-known, we stand strong in the first place, we have had a good alternative policy – and we see that in many polls – and I think Odd Emil is a candidate people know and like, she says.
In these cities there is the greatest chance of change
Election analyst Svein Tore Marthinsen is among those who follow next year’s municipal elections closely.
– The right has a historic opportunity now. You have to go back to 2011 to find a similar opportunity for blue power. In my assessment, they are likely to be able to take half of the large municipalities if the current situation holds, he says to Nettavisen.
The main tendency is that the Conservative Party is in an offensive position in many places, while Ap, which has far more mayors, is in defensive mode, he explains, adding that there is still a long time to go until the election.
But the Conservative Party has one big challenge, the election analyst believes.
– Collaborative constellations play an important role. The Conservatives must work on making more friends, because they do not get a majority, even together with the FRP, especially in many places. They must move towards the center and work together.
The challenge for the Conservative Party and FRP is that the MDG, which often leans to the left, has become as big as the Left in many cities, while at the same time the KrF is getting smaller and the Red Party is getting bigger than they have historically been in many cities.
– Ap governs today in all the big cities. What is the chance of a change of power in these?
– Oslo is not impossible, but the Conservative Party has a long way to go there because they are struggling with the Frp and KrF, which make it very weak. Bergen is a better chance, but it is not a sure bet. Stavanger is a very good chance for them. There, things point in the direction of a shift.
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– Then I think Drammen and Kristiansand are probably within reach. The Conservative Party had a fairly good poll in Trondheim, but together with the Frp they can get a maximum of 40 percent together, and the KrF and V are quite small there, so the question is whether they will achieve anything against Sp or MDG? It looks complicated so I still keep the red-green ones as clear favourites.
Local favorites retire
Last year, the Conservative Party experienced that many of its parliamentary representatives either gave up or lost their place in the nomination rounds. The party experienced a small generational change after eight years in power. The same is now happening on a smaller scale locally, according to Marthinsen.
– I have noticed that a number of Ap mayors are resigning, he says and mentions Aalesund, Bodø, Kristiansand, Sandnes, Sarpsborg, Skien and Trondheim.
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– Then Ap loses an edge that having a well-known mayor can be. Then you are a bit more like the Høyre’s front candidate.
– There is also a tendency for the red-greens to do better when those voters are asked about local preferences, than about national preferences. That people are dissatisfied with the board nationally, but tolerably satisfied locally. So it is not certain that it will be quite as bleak for Ap as it looks based on the national situation, concludes Marthinsen.
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Back in Bodø, Solberg highlights the importance of having strong candidates that people like. She also reveals which Labor mayor has been the most difficult to deal with.
– Høyre has experience that the candidates count quite a lot with us. That effect is actually greatest for the Right. We have enough power to attract more voters if we have a good candidate.
– I think it has to do with the fact that there are many floating voters who can rally behind a good candidate. When a very good mayor leaves, politics normalizes somewhat, reflects the former prime minister.
– Is some of that in you as a party with more focus on the individual, while the other side is more collectivist?
– It can be. I don’t know why, but over the years we have measured that we seem to get a greater effect from having popular mayors, especially in the bigger cities. In medium-sized cities, we see it very well in several lots. Ap, for example, had a very popular mayor in Lørenskog, who it has been almost impossible to run against.
– She’s quitting this time, isn’t she? asks Solberg and looks towards Asheim.
The mayor Solberg is talking about is Ragnhild Bergheim, who has been in office for seven years and unfortunately for the Conservative leader has revealed that she is running for another term.
Points to a strong card for Ap
On a visit to Bodø, Solberg met with Ap deputy leader Bjørnar Skjæran. The two debated power production and eviction against each other at the Stormen cultural center in Bodø, during a live NRK debate.
– I don’t think the right-wing wave is on its way, says Fisheries and Oceans Minister Skjæran to Nettavisen.
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He points out that it is not unusual for a party to go up in the polls when they come into opposition nationally.
– We saw after the election in 2013, which we lost by a good margin, that we got a lot for free. Jonas commented on the decline to 42 percent, he says to paint a picture of how high Ap flew after ending up in opposition.
– So Erna probably knows that it is not because of a major political effort that they now have a boost. Now there are local elections, and from polls I see that our politicians enjoy great confidence, so those who think it will be an easy match against the Labor Party in local elections, they will regret it.
Skjæran is clear that it is not a given that today’s measurements will hold up for a whole year.
– We have seen that before. When we entered the election year, we had a turnout of 17.5 per cent. Nine months later, we ended up nine percentage points higher. You also see parties that go high and then fall again. One year is a long time.
Skjæran predicts that social policy can be a good card for Ap in the municipal election campaign.
– The municipalities produce many of the welfare services, and I think people are very concerned that they are safe and good, that they are run by the community and that there are permanent, full positions, concludes the minister.