Social democratic change in our time -The Nation

Spread the word

In democracies, change takes place through elections. Political parties define policies, ideologies and visions, and more concrete strategies for how to implement change. In some countries, such as my home country Norway, which just had general elections last Monday, there were no less than nine political parties in last term’s parliament, which means that the parties must form groups and coalitions—one group that is in power, and one that is in opposition. The system is different from the British and American systems, where there are usually just two main parties in their parliaments. Also, in those countries, and in most former British colonies, the systems are based on one constituency, one representative. In the proportionate election systems, such as in all Scandinavian countries, there are several representatives elected from each constituency, based on the number of votes cast for each candidate. That system is by many seen as more democratic because it is not only the winner that takes all. In the UK, for example, one can find constituencies that have always either been Labour or Conservative.

In Norway, the Conservative Party PM, Erna Solberg, in a coalition government with the Liberal Party and the Christian People’s Party, lost this year’s election after having ruled for eight years—two four-year parliamentary terms. Now Jonas Gahr Støre from the Labour Party and his two preferred coalition partners, the Centre Party and the Socialist Left Party, are in majority. Furthermore, the far-left Red Party, Red, did well and the little Green Party got three experienced representatives, and they are also supporting Labour. It should be noted that it is very rare that any political group is in power for more than two terms; that only happened in the first decades after WWII when Labour had a majority for longer and built the welfare state. Thus, it was expected that the Conservatives would lose this year’s election.

Well into this year’s election campaign in Norway, I came to realise the importance and urgency of addressing climate change and environmental issues, and I already knew that equality issues are essential, in Norway and in all other countries. The fact that Norway is an oil and gas producer and exporter, makes the oil issues particularly important, for Norway’s own sake, and because the country generally wants to be a model country for others to learn from. Since it is one of the world’s richest countries, thanks to its abundance of natural resources, not only oil, and it has a small population, one expects Norway to be at the forefront for change, more so than poorer and larger countries.

The fact that social and other differences have grown in Norway too, as in most other countries in recent decades, is in many ways an embarrassment to political leaders, also because it is known that the private sector thrives best when the inequalities are small. The social democrats realise this and emphasise it more than conservatives.

The most important political issues in the next decades are the green and inequality issues. These issues are national, regional and international; they also include immigration and refugees, and international development issues through aid and solidarity. In our region that means that we expect increased emergency and development aid to Afghanistan and to neighbouring Pakistan. Afghanistan needs assistance to rebuild the country after twenty years of war, when little real development happened, except for in some fields, mainly liberal gender issues in the cities. But we must remember the country was occupied and with internal conflicts. The new leaders need assistance to develop its policies and political culture, more so than superficial foreign criticism.

Russia holds its federal election this week from 17-19 September, but unlike in Scandinavia, the political system seems to not be very dynamic and the ruling party, led by President Vladimir Putin, is likely to win with little opposition. Lack of plurality is unfortunate; it would have been much better if there had been several significant parties. Everywhere, indeed in Scandinavia and Europe, the social democratic parties and the green parties are essential, and especially the latter have major support from young people. It is essential that the youth are active politically, as they are in Scandinavia.

Climate change and environmental issues and equality issues, will be at the head of the agenda in the years and decades to come. In the immediate four or eight years, Jonas Gahr Støre will lead Norway, and then, if things go as they usually do, there will again be a shift at the next or second next election. One thing that is certain, and we should all prepare for, is that the change to come in the next decades will be much more massive than in the past several decades. To handle that, to give ideas and vision, we need everyone’s participation, in new and old parties, interest groups, private companies, research institutes and so on. Then we can shape the new world, which we don’t yet quite know how it will be, but we know it will have challenges but also tremendous potential.