Meanwhile, internal squabbles came to a high in December 2020, with the exclusion of the radical leader of the Oslo branch, Geir Ugland Jacobsen.
The party’s association with Donald Trump has also been damaging for them, particularly in the aftermath of the violent assault on the US Capitol on 6 January. Party MP Christian Tybring-Gjedde also attracted international attention for nominating Trump for the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize, only to later retract the nomination.
A new force on the rise
With the FrP’s popularity declining, one party in particular has been filling the gap in the run-up to September’s national elections: the centrist, populist, anti-EU, nationalist Senterpartiet (Centre Party).
The Senterpartiet (SP) is led by the charismatic and talkative Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, who travels the country joking and talking with ‘ordinary’ people and promising to help them tostand up to the ‘elites’.
The SP is not new. It grew from the Nordic Agrarian Farmers´ Party, which was established in the 1920s and has benefited from supporting grievances raised by farmers, public sector workers, and small businesses especially in the rural regions, but increasingly in Oslo and other urban areas.
The pandemic has laid bare the increase in inequality and a massive gap in property value between the south and the north of Norway. For years, rural areas have been stripped of wealth and opportunities to the benefit of the wealthier urban areas.
This has become particularly obvious in the north where communities are suffering from urban flight and centralisation. Fishing rights have been privatised and small boats and businesses have lost their quotas to larger companies in the south.
The SP has managed to tap into ordinary people´s grievances and has replaced the FrP in addressing them. It promises a redistribution of resources from big businesses in the south to small enterprises in the north and a new rural development strategy to boost the regions in order to regain lost opportunities, power and wealth.
A new home for the far Right?
The SP speaks to those who suffered from centralisation, privatisation and a neo-liberal political economy. The result is that more and more people are flocking to it, and it has become the main opposition party against centralised, uneven development, without having to focus on ‘problems with immigration’.
Having attracted large parts of the precariat that the FrP previously appealed to, opinion polls in January 2021 suggest the SP’s support is 22.6% compared to AP’s 17.5%. This suggests that the SP is now Norway’s most popular party.
If these numbers hold, the growing populist party can expect to form a government coalition after the September elections – and AP will have to prepare to be a junior coalition partner.
On the whole, the SP is more concerned about social justice and welfare than most populist-nationalist parties on the Right, though it has also shown nationalist tendencies.
In a live debate between party leaders last year, only the SP leader, Trygve Slagsvold Vedum, refused to agree that distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine should be shared equally in solidarity with poor countries.
The SP in its current shape and form cannot be considered to be on the far Right, but it has become a new home for far-Right voters leaving the FrP in search of another ‘protest party’.