Ketil Solvik-Olsen (48) wants to rejoin the FRP party leadership. He wants a milder and more conciliatory Frp.
He also admits that he has a more subdued and less pointed form than his fiercest competitor to take over from Siv Jensen as party leader, Sylvi Listhaug.
In this comeback interview with VG, the former Minister of Transport and the deputy leader talks about what he thinks about his own and the party’s ambitions and opportunities after living 20 months in Alabama – the state Donald Trump won by the clearest margin in 2016.
Ketil Solvik-Olsen in new book: Opens to become party leader after Siv Jensen
– Many in Frp support Donald Trump. Do you hope he wins on November 3rd?
– I will not say what I hope.
– Why not?
– Because the media debate around Biden versus Trump is so polarized and you are put in a stall. I dislike that. The picture is more nuanced. I would never have had Trump as my father-in-law. It had been cruel. You could say the Americans chose the bully of the class to be elected to the union. The proponents see him as a “doorman” who can clean up. Opponents, on the other hand, see the “bully” who goes after everyone who is weaker than himself. There is truth in both pictures. I think many Republicans miss Reagan, and many Democrats miss Obama. I miss both, says Solvik-Olsen.
– Who wins?
– I’m pretty sure Biden will win. In February, I believed in Trump. Then the economic factors spoke in his favor, but that has changed because of the corona. He has handled the corona in a way that has significantly weakened confidence. When he even became ill himself, because he was careless, he is overtaken by his own words again and again.
On average, Solvik-Olsen is concerned with how politicians in both the Green Party and the United States communicate with voters.
– If Trump had stopped tweeting, it would have been easier to understand and discuss his policy. He has put himself in this situation. If he had behaved normally as president, he would probably have been re-elected. Much of the policy he has pursued has been quite good. The problem is he is standing there chatting and talking as if he is sitting in a pub. This is not how a leader should be.
Solvik-Olsen had been a highly profiled Minister of Transport for almost five years when in August 2018 he abruptly announced his departure. He was to accompany his wife, who had gotten a job as a doctor at a hospital in Alabama. He then resigned as deputy leader of Frp.
Ketil Solvik-Olsen: Ready for the American dream
Internally in Frp, only two names are currently pointed out as relevant to succeed Siv Jensen: Solvik-Olsen – and Sylvi Listhaug. No one today knows which of them has the strongest support.
But everyone agrees that the two are very different types of politicians.
And now Solvik-Olsen is making a full comeback: He has agreed to be in first place for Rogaland Frp, and he wants to return to the party leadership.
Already this weekend, he will be elected to the central board during the delayed national meeting at Gardermoen, while the election of deputy chairmen will take place at the ordinary national meeting this spring.
– How did you as a Norwegian politician experience what it was like to live in the USA?
– You will find scream-and-shout groups that are polarized, a bit like SIAN and anti-racists here at home. But the regular American you meet is more nuanced than you can get the impression of, and discusses most with agreement, says Solvik-Olsen.
Much of the American debate has revolved around racism, police killings, protests, and the removal of statues that hailed heroes from the American Civil War (1861–65).
Ku Klux Klan
– Many of the statues that were demolished in the USA while we were there were set up by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. They were set up in support of racial segregation. These statues have no justification, and it was right that they were taken down. But when some destroy statues of Lincoln, then it tips over into parody, as it did in Oslo where some would remove the Churchill statue.
The former Secretary of State lived in the northern state of Michigan for four years in the 1990s, but the southern state of Alabama is completely different.
– The city of Birmingham has an apartheid history. What shocked me was how thorough racial politics was in parts of the United States until the 1960s. Especially in the Southern States where we lived. The stories I heard from people in the local community were both fascinating and frightening, and broke with the ideals of the United States with “liberty and justice for all. It was known that blacks were not treated well, that schools were segregated and that they were not allowed to eat in the same restaurants. And it was known that there were evil forces among the Ku Klux Klan. But the insight into how it permeated all public administration, police, judiciary, the entire power apparatus in many cities – it was serious and shocking, he says seriously.
Solvik-Olsen and his family sought out black environments themselves.
– It was heartwarming to experience how welcome I felt when I attended services several times in Birmingham’s oldest black church, which in the 60’s was bombed by white racists. Fortunately, there are many who seek reconciliation rather than continued conflict, says Solvik-Olsen.
He also goes a long way in fully supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.
– I met a taxi driver who marched with Martin Luther King and told about it. Those who have experienced something like that, they have a justified resentment that American society has not quite managed to relate to or resolve.
– Is this what has made the strongest impression on you?
– Yes. I have talked to many, both blacks and whites, who can tell about how things were. Racial segregation in the city was not the exception, it was the rule. There are some who burn shops and smash windows, like in Minneapolis. I did not feel that it represented the general attitude between blacks and whites in Birmingham. It is wrong when that is the picture Norwegians get. It was a night in Birmingham where there were tendencies to riots. But you hear most people say “no, do not do it”. There are very few who start smashing windows, it is not representative, he says.
– No one in Frp talks more about immigration than Oslo Frp. No one talks less about immigration than Møre og Romsdal Frp. Oslo Frp gets five percent in support, Møre og Romsdal gets 22 percent. What do you read out of it?
– It is often more relevant to discuss immigration policy where there is most immigration, and especially where one experiences poor integration. At the same time, I think that if you appear a little one-sided on one topic, you lose appeal. Most people also need to hear what to do with school, kindergartens, local roads. There, I believe that good FRP counties such as Møre og Romsdal and Rogaland manage to have a wider range of issues to play on. For people are concerned with jobs, local value creation, the school road. If the only thing Oslo Frp comes through the sound barrier with is immigration issues, then there are very many people who think that it is right, but you have to have something more.
– You wrote in your book that you are milder in shape than Sylvi Listhaug. Can you concretize it?
– I think the FRP should aim to get the prime minister. That we must be greatest on the bourgeois side. And I think that is realistic. But then we must communicate so that people listen, understand and trust us. You can be clear even if you are gentle in your voice. If we choose words that are too sharp, then we risk that many people think that “he has a point, but it was then violent”. Therefore, we must be aware when we communicate. Is it getting too strong? Will it just vote out? For people who are only moderately concerned with politics, we must avoid appearing violent and unvarnished. I think many more will listen if you speak more balanced. The thing about being clear is not about screaming as loud as possible to be heard, says Solvik-Olsen.
– For spisst
In 2005, Frp received 22.1 percent. In 2009 22.9 percent. In the local elections last year, Frp received 8.8 percent.
– I think that if we manage to speak in a slightly calmer way, but are still clear on what we mean, then more people will listen to us. Then more, both of the Conservatives’ and SP’s voters, will come back to us. And the industrial workers from the Labor Party. Then we can become the largest party.
– Is today’s FRP too sharp?
– Yes. In some areas, such as immigration, we are not as balanced as our policies actually are. In my book I write that we should have a slightly softer voice, but still clear. If people react to the vocabulary, then it is difficult to get them to listen to the content. Some say that all advertising is good advertising. I’m not there.
Solvik-Olsen arrives at the interview with VG on a bicycle that is so expensive that he has not dared to reveal the sum to his wife.
He has six more. The eighth was stolen the other day.
Almost every day he cycles the 414 meters from the center of Oslo and up to Voksenåsen, above Holmenkollen.
– When Oslo Frp in local elections comes down to five percent support, what is it an expression of?
– In the US, I experienced Frp only through the media. I hardly saw positive posts from Oslo Frp about kindergartens, schools or soft road users. For me as a cyclist, there was little to gain. The times Frp was mentioned in connection with cycling, it was always negative. Are we then aware enough of how a sharp message is perceived by people who do not follow the political debate on a daily basis? It is not good when our policies are perceived differently from what is actually our position. We were much better at fronting the breadth of our policy in the 2000s than we have managed lately, Solvik-Olsen states.