According to the polls, the conservative Independence Party seems to have regained all the ground it lost in the wake of the economic collapse. Sure, a lot may change before Election Day in April, but for many their popularity remains a mystery. After all, the last time it led the government, it virtually bankrupted the country. What gives?
Although the current left-wing government takes its cue from Scandinavia, in some ways Icelandic politics more resemble those of the United States. And as in the United States, the solution to the crisis seems to be more of the same. While the crisis initially led to a left swing in politics, with the conservatives losing power for the first time this century, the debate has since been largely led by those on the right.
GOVERNMENT MUST GO
When 30 years of blind faith in the free market spun to its inevitable conclusion in the autumn of 2008, many of those on the left believed, just as inevitably, that there would follow 30 years of tighter controls, as had happened after the last big crash in 1929. Perhaps this belief in the inevitable was one of the reasons why this did not come to pass. Politics are not determined by historical inevitability so much as by who has the clearest message and here, the right still reigns supreme.
Obama spoke a lot about “hope” and “change,” but did not really offer a clear vision of where to go or to how to get there. The Tea Party did. Tea Partiers rightly pointed out that the disaster was brought about by an unhealthy collusion between big business and government. Their conclusion: Government must go. This is of course historically nonsensical. Big business had been lobbying for less government intervention for years, which led directly to the collapse. But the message was clear, the solution simple, and it tapped into legitimate anger over government bailouts of the banks.
ALL ROADS LEAD AWAY FROM BRUSSELS
Much the same thing happened here, but with an Icelandic twist. People were rightly angry about having to pay the Icesave debt, but somehow this anger was directed towards the politicians who inherited the problem rather than the ones who brought it about in the first place. This turned into a general distrust not just of the left-wing government, but also of the EU. So far, the current election campaign seems to focus more on attitudes towards Europe than on tighter bank regulation, which is the only thing that can effectively prevent another collapse.
Part of the problem was that as the left-wing government assumed power, it was effectively sent below deck to patch up the holes, leaving the right free to plot political strategy. The left, both here and elsewhere, never really offered a clear vision beyond keeping the ship afloat. This they have managed to do admirably, but man does not subsist on bread alone. Like Moses, the left-wing government promised to lead us out of bondage in Egypt, but unlike Moses, failed to promise us a land of milk and honey at the end of the road.
MEET THE NEW BOOM, SAME AS THE OLD…
Small wonder, perhaps, that in the absence of a new dream of a more equal society, many seem to have reverted to the old dream of another economic boom. Even if practically impossible (the last one was also built on sand), it at least gives people something to believe in, which is after all as fundamental to politics as the practical task of governing. Judged solely on the latter, the left would seem to have done a better job.
Ideology is too important to be left to the conservatives. Perhaps the left should take a leaf from their book and give us something to believe in. Responsible government, it seems, is not enough to win an election.