Norway and Australia shift to the right, despite gleaming economies. What’s up with that?


12 September 2013, 3.23am BST

The politics of ingratitude? Norway and Australia at the polls

With strikingly similar parallels to Tony Abbott’s victory, Erna Solberg’s centre-right party took power in Norway in an election this week. What now for centre-left politics? EPA/Solum

Imagine a country with a strong, well-performing economy, ruled by a centre-left party that has achieved a number of key reforms. Yet, despite having a good story to tell about strong growth, low unemployment, and low inflation it is heavily defeated at the polls, and replaced by a resurgent centre-right government.

In this case, we are talking about Norway, not Australia.

Two days after Australians voted to remove the Rudd Labor government, Norwegians acted decisively to remove their incumbent Labour government. Labour prime minister Jens Stoltenberg has ruled Norway since 2005 in a “red-green” coalition.

Stoltenberg recently made international news when he decided to drive a taxi around Oslo to find out what voters were really thinking. On September 9 they made their views very clear in ejecting his government, and installing Erna Solberg as the new leader of a centre-right government.

There are striking parallels with Australian Labor, and wider lessons for both centre-right and centre-left parties. Stoltenberg developed a strong reputation for sound economic management, and like the Rudd/Swan team, was widely praised for navigating Norway out of the global financial crisis. Norway, like Australia, has a huge natural resource market – with significant oil reserves.

Indeed, The Economist – a noted supporter of free-markets – offered this rather sympathetic account of Norway’s economy and the expected electoral result:

Economic growth was at 2.6% year-on-year in the second quarter and unemployment at just 3.4%, while the current-account surplus is huge: nearly 14% of GDP. Given that, Mr Stoltenberg’s looming defeat suggests ingratitude.

Stoltenberg’s government ran into trouble when he attempted to increase oil revenue taxes – his version of a “mining tax”, with concerns that it would drive away international investment.

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