Sunday, 22 June 2014

My new political favourite – The Best Party shows the way

The policies were unorthodox. Well, certainly the non-core ones.
Electors were promised free towels at swimming pools, a polar bear for the zoo, the import of Jews, “so that someone who understands something about economics finally comes to Iceland”, a drug-free parliament by 2020, inaction (“we’ve worked hard all our lives and want to take a well-paid four-year break now”), Disneyland with free weekly passes for the unemployed (“where they can have themselves photographed with Goofy”), greater understanding for the rural population (“every Icelandic farmer should be able to take a sheep to a hotel for free”), free bus tickets.
Then the core promise caveat.
“We can promise more than any other party because we will break every campaign promise.”
And the election result? The Best Party, described as anarcho-surrealists, were to govern Iceland’s capital city of Reykjavik for four years.
Tages Anzeiger provides delightful details of the victory and its consequences.
The leading candidate, Jón Gnarr, a comedian by profession, entered the riotous hall full of drunken anarchists looking rather circumspect. Almost shyly, he raised his fist and said: “Welcome to the revolution!” And: “Hurray for all kinds of things!”
Gnarr was now the mayor of Reykjavik. After the Prime Minister, he held the second-most important office in the land. A third of all Icelanders live in the capital and another third commute to work there. The city is the country’s largest employer and its mayor the boss of some 8,000 civil servants.
No wonder the result was such a shock. Reykjavik was beset by crises: the crash of the banking system had also brought everything else to the verge of bankruptcy – the country, the city, companies and inhabitants. And the anarcho-surrealist party – the self-appointed Best Party – was composed largely of rock stars, mainly former punks. Not one of them had ever been part of any political body. Their slogan for overcoming the crisis was simple: “More punk, less hell!”
Key to the astounding victory was The Best Party’s campaign video.
And did politicians with a sense of humour actually actually work as a government? Apparently.
An assessment of four years of anarchist rule yields a rather surprising conclusion: the punks put the city’s financial house in order. They can also look back on some very successful speeches, a few dozen kilometers of bike paths, a zoning plan, a new school organization (that no one complains about any more) and a relaxed, booming city – tourism is growing by 20% a year (and some say that is the new bubble). In speeches, president Grímsson no longer praises Icelanders’ killer instinct, but their creativity. Real estate prices are again on the rise and the Range Rovers are back too. In polls last October, the Best Party hit its high-water mark of 38%. Shortly thereafter, Gnarr announced he would retire and dissolve the Best Party. His reason: “I’m a comedian, not a politician.” He added: “I was a cab driver for four years, a really good one even, and I quit doing that as well.”
“My question was always: ‹How do we fuck the system?” says [a former punk band member Einar] Örn. “And the answer was, we show that non-politicians can do the job as well. But quitting with a certain election victory within reach, that’s truly fucking the system!”
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