Why should the average Reykjavík voter choose your party? What does it offer that the other parties do not, in terms of platform, policy, integrity and skill – i.e. what do you hope makes it the discerning voter’s party of choice?
We are in a situation now where things really need to get moving. The city of Reykjavík and its surrounding communities are home to two thirds of Icelanders, it’s where most of the people work and live. If Iceland is to get out of the current situation, Reykjavík has to take initiative. It is not enough to wait and see whether the market decides to invest and take action like the libertarians preach and [mayor] Hanna Birna has been saying. In a recession the public bodies need to take the lead. One percent in unemployment costs us 1 billion ISK each year. So if we are to have funds for our welfare and schools, we have to get people to work! There we have a plan. In fact we are the only party with a thought out plan to get jobs going. It is a plan we have developed in open meetings for over a year with the participation of dozens of people. You can read it at www.xsreykjavik.is. So, the average Reykjavik voter should vote for us based on our plan in job creation.
Secondly we have on our list, people who have experience and interests from a variety of backgrounds. People with strong integrity. We need to get Hjálmar Sveinsson into the city council, because he has thought about and written about city planning for a very long time and I believe the city needs Bjarni Karlsson because he knows the living conditions of the most vulnerable people in the city better than most people. Need to create jobs and a list of good people that should make the difference. Oddný Sturludóttir has been a leading figure in education and on the issue of integration and Björk Vilhelmsdóttir is a well knows champion on welfare.
The other parties will likely respond to the above question in a similar manner to yourselves. Why should we choose you over them?
No, I don’t think the others can answer in a similar way. At least haven’t I heard from them any concrete plans on how to create jobs and tackle the unemployment in the city. There are good intentions in all parties, everyone wants to do what they believe is best for the people, but the current administration in City Hall hasn’t shown that they have the drive that is needed to get us moving, to grab the lead which we so much need from the city where most of Icelanders live and work. You should choose us because we have a plan. We know what the current rulers can do and it just isn’t enough.
A lot of your campaigns, past and present, speak about defending our welfare system. In concrete terms: how do you plan to do that?
Look, there was a huge collapse in Iceland less than two years ago. Our largest companies collapsed in the third largest bankruptcy in the world. Yes, that is true, the banks combined are the third largest bankruptcy ever. As a result many companies and households are in trouble and the government needs to take really difficult measures to get us moving after the fall. We are very clear, and have been from October 2008, that we need to protect the most vulnerable. That is in our bones as social democrats, we need to use every effort to support and protect those most vulnerable, so that Iceland doesn’t come divided out of the crisis. That we don’t divide the society into those who have and those who have not. This has happened elsewhere, like in Finland.
There will be difficult decisions to take but we have to focus very strongly on the way we prioritize. For example, we cannot afford to spend public money in the way the current majority has. We just cannot afford 600 million for two houses on Laugavegur and 230 million to extend the golf course at Korpúlfsstaðir. More concretely, this means, that we try our utmost to protect jobs and services. The key is to get unemployment down in close cooperation with the government, the unions and the employers’ associations.
Your current platform speaks a lot of the need for decent city planning. Yet Reykjavík transformed into a sprawling monster over the last two decades, most notably while your very party was in power. To what can we attribute this newfound love for city planning, and what are your immediate plans to implement it when in office?
Well, I agree that the development hasn’t been the best one and it is possible to criticize people in most parties for the way Reykjavík was planned. Much of that is based on the general plan from the 60s that had the aim of planning for an industrial, private-car based city. I have been a vocal opponent of that very policy that has been wasteful in all the communities in our greater Reykjavik area. Almost every town spread out without looking at what others were doing. This has cost the society hundreds of billions of krónur.
Remember, the last campaign when the Independence party campaigned that there was a lack of building plots and Reykjavík should offer more places to build? This was their main promise. When I took over the city planning commission in 2004, my focus was very strongly on infils and revitalizing older areas, on creating mixed neighbourhoods where people could seek sustainable services rather than spreading out the city and for everyone to have to get all their necessities in large shopping malls. I wanted a more classic European approach and since then I have to say this has gained ground, at least among some of the younger city councillors.
We have an outlined plan in housing because the city is now in a situation where affordable housing for young families is very difficult to find. Just like in earlier periods of recession, the social democrats are those who are best equipped to provide affordable housing for renting or buying. The time when everyone had to own their own large house is behind us. That race led many families into deep financial troubles.
Recent poll results indicate that the voters of Iceland have lost a lot of faith in the Icelandic party system, its politics and its officials. This includes your supporters (or former supporters). Why do you think this is, and how do you plan on winning the public’s trust back?
It is very understandable that people are sceptical towards politicians after the collapse 19 months ago. Many feel betrayed and rightfully so. We have just got the report of the Special Investigatory Commission of Alþingi, which shows us into the many mistakes which were done in recent years. But I ask everyone to try to draw the right lessons from the report. It was the neoconservative ideology of privatisation without any supervision. It was an ideological decision to have weak supervisory bodies. It was complacency on behalf of the government at the time which didn’t take the warning signs seriously enough. And it is very sad to read about the grave incompetence by the Central bank and FSA. There were also a corrupt decision on behalf of the two governmental parties at the time, Sjálfstæðisflokkur and Framsóknarflokkur to hand the banks to their preferred businessmen. This is corruption and it needs to be investigated thoroughly.
To build trust we have to be able to investigate the events that led to the collapse and to prosecute and sentence those who bear responsibility. And we have to put in place rules and regulations so that the same things cannot happen again. The “pots and pans” uprising was very understandable. People wanted the government at the time out, the Central Bank chiefs out, and they wanted elections. This we all got. I however cannot hide the fact that the response now will be to vote either for the same ideology that led us into the collapse, or much sounder and time tested social democratic solutions to the crisis. For us we had an open primary contest with strict spending rules and got healthy people with great integrity to take a seat on our list.
Your platform states that “welfare and jobs” are the best way out of our current economic hardship. In all honesty, this sounds like an empty slogan or catchphrase, something that could have been uttered by every party in every campaign of the last few decades — so much politispeak. How is it not? What is the plan?
The plan is a typical social democratic plan of creating jobs and protecting the vulnerable, schools and public services. It sets out clear values and criteria of what we cherish most and how we will prioritise. It is of no surprise that this is a well known platform, because it has been the core of social democratic politics from the Great depression, and even earlier. It was born out of a fight for rights of workers, women and the vision of the Nordic welfare state. And now it is more important than ever.