Iceland’s own Silly Party
(I tried to get this into the Guardian Cif – no response)
In my youth, I was a dedicated Monty Python fan. I watched everything I could get my hands on. I memorised entire scenes and quoted them in parties. Looking back, it was fun, but a bit sad. John Desmond Lewis took this to a new level when he changed his name by deed poll to Tarquin Fin-tim-lin-bin-whin-bim-lim-bus-stop-F’tang-F’tang-Olé-Biscuitbarrel and stood in the 1981 Crosby by-election. The name comes from one of my favourite Monty Python sketches, the Election Night Special, where Tarquin is the Silly Party candidate who wins in Luton.
There is a great tradition in the UK for real-life silly candidates and even silly parties. Screaming Lord Sutch and The Monster Raving Looney Party. Nick Griffin and The BNP. The last parliamentary election saw quite a few interesting candidates. Aaron Barschak, the comedy terrorist, ran in Witney and dressed up as Jesus for the count, lining up with David Cameron. Derek Jackson of the Landless Peasant Party stood behind Gordon Brown with his fist in the air at the count in Kirkcaldy & Cowdenbeath.
It is very rare for official silliness to do well in elections, but Iceland now stands a real chance of electing not one or two, but several silly candidates in the local elections on Saturday. It seems that a large majority of voters have finally had enough of the corrupt party politics that have run the country since its independence.
In most municipalities, there isn’t much choice to vote for actual change, since the same old parties are the only ones running and most people feel compelled to put the X somewhere. The choice is between different evils.
In Reykjavík, however, the story is a different one. As well as the usual suspects, Besti Flokkurinn (The Best Party) is running. The party has a list of unusual policy items such as to stop corruption by being transparent about their corruption and getting a polar bear for the zoo. The list of candidates is an interesting group of people, mostly well-known figures from the Icelandic art scene, such as Einar Örn Benediktsson, who fronted The Sugarcubes with Björk. Undoubtedly, this made it easier for them to record the party theme tune.
The party leader is (the slightly silly) Jón Gnarr. Best known for his comedy, he has acted, written, directed, hosted radio programs, toured with his stand-up show – the list is long. His work tends to be slightly surreal and often close to the limit of what is acceptable to broadcast.
The most recent polls show The Best Party with more than 40% of the vote, giving it 6 – 8 councillors out of 15, the latter giving it a clear majority and the power to run the city as it pleases.
History and neuroscience tell us that this is unlikely to be quite such a landslide. Once inside the polling booth, reason and knowledge contribute very little. The amygdala takes over and directs the partisan hand to put the X in the “right” place.
However, there is hope that this time the feelings of disgust toward the current system are so strong that they will overcome the normally predictable reaction.