Iceland’s anarcho-surrealist “Best Party” led by punk mayor transforms politics
“Its first pledge was to break all its promises, making the party almost impossible to attack, then it promised a polar bear to the zoo and a drug-free parliament within 10 years.
The party’s only advertisement was in a newspaper personal column, saying: “The Best Party wishes to meet good people aged between 18 and 90.” Its 10-point plan had 13 points. And the party’s campaign video featured candidates singing Tina Turner’s Simply the Best, with the chorus: “We are the best, the bestest of parties, best for Reykjavik, best city of every week.” It works in Icelandic.
Iceland was ripe for change, having effectively gone bust thanks to the cronyism of a cluster of politicians and bankers who thought that they could turn an island of fishermen with a population of 318,000 into a financial superpower.
In less than four years, the most rapid expansion of a banking system in history saw three privatised banks develop assets 10 times the size of the country’s GDP. It was the Icarus economy. Property prices tripled, the stock market multiplied nine times, and people borrowed heavily – often in foreign currencies – to cash in on the boom. The crash was fast, hard and painful, worsened by the collapse of the krona as the state, unable to bail out the banks, refused to pay foreign creditors.
The strategy looks smart now, compared with events in Greece and Ireland, but the country was angry and frightened. Voters wanted change, and the Best Party caught the mood, capturing Reykjavik with 34.7% of the vote. “No one has to be afraid of the Best Party,” said Jón in his acceptance speech. “Because it is the best party. If it wasn’t, it would be called the Worst Party or the Bad Party. We would never work with a party like that.”
“Given the frivolity of their campaign and the fact the mayor is a famous comedian, best known for playing a bad-tempered Marxist on television, they have surprised people with the seriousness they have shown in running the city.”
Poets should be lawgivers; that is, the boldest lyric inspiration should not chide and insult, but should announce and lead, the civil code, and the day’s work. But now the two things seem irreconcilably parted.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 -1882)
Looks like Iceland has found a way with Jon Gnarr! Apart from being in a punk band and a comedian and a suspected jedi, he also used to be a cab driver. That’s the kind of mayor Melbourne needs. Then again, if it ends up being Sean Bedlam or (God forbid) Carl Scrace, I may have to eat my words. Maybe, for the time being, we are better off with the devil we know.