27 August 2019

What is the job of a politician?

By Marianne Haslev Skånland
professor emeritus, Oslo

• • •
An original version of this article was written in Norwegian, Hva skal en politiker være?, as a comment to a newspaper article by a politician, Kay Erling Ludvigsen. Translations of his comments which I discuss, are mine.
• • •

There are local elections (for municipalities and counties) coming up in Norway on 8-9 September this year. An article obviously aimed at voters, published in Folkebladet, a local newspaper for central Troms county, started me thinking – again – that many of our politicians to my mind seem wide of the mark concerning what their work in politics should be.

Jeg vil ha barna mine tilbake (I want my children back)
By Kay Erling Ludvigsen
(local politician for Arbeiderpartiet (the Norwegian Labour Party))
Folkebladet, 18 July 2019

The title of the article does not reflect the content but may have been the newspaper's decision, since Ludvigsen writes about why he will do nothing for people separated from their children by the child protective services (CPS – Norwegian Barnevernet) to have their children back.

Ludvigsen's view

He holds an opinion on Barnevern cases. He has been contacted by many families, probably families who desperately try to get help against Barnevernet's destruction of their children and the family. Ludvigsen has rejected them all and will not receive information about the cases and about what the affected families are experiencing.

He probably takes it for granted that all these children receive help from Barnevernet. He has seen one case of Barnevernet doing what he considers right (probably by taking children away from their home), and on that basis he seems to think that this is what Barnevern cases are like generally.

He blames the public who protest in social media, and thinks that although their exasperation is 'understandable', it shows that they are unbalanced and should not be taken seriously. He is very much against their carrying out 'one-sided hate campaigns' against Barnevernet. He excuses himself by saying that "We must be confident that every case which lands in the archives of the Barnevern Service is based on solid assessments."

Mr Ludvigsen is not alone in his repudiation of liability. If his lack of facing up to his responsibilities had been a rare phenomenon, his party, and then other people around him, would quickly have taken him to task concerning his way of representing citizens. This does not happen.

People with power in Norwegian society have adopted a curious principle: 'We cannot examine or take action in individual cases.'

Can they not?

Ludvigsen's article is frightening reading.

What is the function of a politician?

The job of politicians is not to celebrate themselves and their 'opinions'. If a democracy is to function, politicians must understand that they have been elected to take care of the needs and issues of the citizens, especially in their relation to public administration and bureaucracy. Politicians must energetically go into how the government of society is carried out in practice.
The politicians are the ones responsible for this practice. Employees in bureaucracy and service units are not supposed to rule while politicians 'rest'; when this happens, democracy is non-existent.

I have no great admiration for all sides of British political life. But I think it is perhaps a sound principle that whoever has been elected to parliament for a constituency, is expected to be present in the constituency at intervals and keep office hours when people in this electoral district can consult him about their cases and concerns. If discontent with his absence or lack of help grows too great, he and his party may not be re-elected.

All cases are individual cases. Allowing oneself to define individual cases as 'none of my concern' is pure bureaucratism (quite a good dictionary definition: work carried out by fixed routine without exercising intelligent judgment).

Why do people yield to this nonsense from politicians? It does away with openness, transparency, people's right to self-determination, defence against overly powerful authorities – that it: it does away with important corner-stones precisely in a democracy. Those who govern will not concern themselves with the concrete results of what their employees and subordinates do and decide?

Politicians are not there to stamp approval on whatever executive branches do while they themselves shut their eyes and let things slide, telling us what they think and believe and guess and feel impressionistically would be popular decisions, while they are without a basis of detailed, reliable information because they do not strive to obtain it. Politicians have not understood what their task is if they do not understand that they must go into every individual case for which they are in fact responsible, and also go fully into the content of ideas and ideology practiced by the executive unit and into the results which the unit can point to – in one individual case after another.

A politician has the job of going into how the governing of society is carried out in practice. Politician Kay Erling Ludvigsen does not want to do this, he is not interested in what we may call 'the necessary infrastructure of democracy'. He bases his opinion on one individual case which he happened to know something about, and has added to it a generalising idea: that "the experts involved in such processes are far more competent than I am to know what is right and wrong".

I have functioned as an expert witness in half a dozen Barnevern processes in court and social board proceedings. In addition I have gone thoroughly into a number of other individual cases, including into the documents of Barnevernet. (The often voiced claim from Barnevernet and their defenders and protectors: that we cannot know 'both sides' of cases if Barnevernet hides behind an obligation of confidentiality, is just nonsense. The private party has the right to have copies of all Barnevernet's documents and has the right to use them for documentation.) I have seen the activities of 'child experts'. In one case after another, Barnevernet and connected professions do the opposite of protecting and helping children. In addition, they not infrequently deviate from the truth, in writing and orally in court.

When the concerned upset is as strong as it is on social media and among people who know the harm done by Barnevernet in many cases, then Mr Ludvigsen ought to open his eyes wide up and go find out about the reality, in many many individual cases and in reliable statistics showing the results when children are brought forcibly under Barnevernet's 'assessments' and 'care', their freedom and their parents' protection being taken away.

The betrayal by our politicians is tragic.
Must we be confident – ? What type of political control is that? Considering the state that the Norwegian child protection service Barnevernet is in and has been in for years, it leads to further disaster if politicians 'improve' matters by allocating further resources and place even more confidence in what the resources are used for. The politicians must actually run and control Barnevernet, not strengthen it but run it.


Jan Pedersen:
The children of the state – The Norwegian child protection agency, Barnevernet, has created a society of fear
27 November 2017

Olav Bergo:
The stuborn blindness of the defenders of Barnevernet
2 March 2019

Marianne Haslev Skånland:
Political program for child protection in local administration
10 March 2012

Per Storegjerde:
Child protection in Norway and Naustdal
23 February 2016

Jahn Otto Johansen:
Self-righteous Norway
30 April 2016

Marianne Haslev Skånland:
The politicians must run the child protection service Barnevernet
16 December 2018

Marianne Haslev Skånland:
Confused politicians?
9 February 2016

Øistein Schjønsby:
Child protection – rules and regulations and how to worm out of them
25 January 2015

Marianne Haslev Skånland:
Norway's parliament passes law making it obligatory to receive 'help' from the child protection services
17 June 2015