One of the recurring annoyances for Icelandic politicians over the last few weeks has been the relentless demand by the public that they reveal who their main supporters were in their election campaigns in recent years. After all, the economic meltdown seems to have been at least partly caused by the unholy alliance of politics and business in this country, in which the entrepreneurs gradually took over the running of the country in the lead-up to the collapse.
This has been particularly difficult for certain individuals in certain parties — and it should come to no surprise to anyone who has been following Icelandic politics that most of those individuals have belonged to the Independence Party.
But not all of them. One, Steinunn Valdís Óskarsdóttir, an MP for the Social Democratic Alliance, was one of those under great pressure to publish the names of her supporters. She finally did, and it transpired that she had collected around ISK 15 million in grants in the lead-up to two primary elections, primarily from the banks [Landsbanki had the highest sum, or some ISK 3.5 million] and companies run by the banksters [e.g. Baugur Group]. Despite pressure she initially refused to resign, withdrawing into a contemptuous sort of indignation until she could withstand the pressure no more and eventually resigned just over a week ago,”for the sake of the party”.
However, the sums she collected pale in comparison with the IP’s Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarsson, he of the choirboy looks and artful mannerisms. He received a grand total of ISK 24.8 million to take part in a preliminary election campaign for the IP in 2006. For weeks now, Guðlaugur Þór has been under pressure to reveal the names of his supporters, and for that same length of time he has been dithering, promising, pulling back, promising again, on and on ad infinitum, until finally he spilled the beans last Friday.
It is obvious that the revelation was cleverly orchestrated. The press release was sent out at 7.15 pm on the day that the Best Party and the Social Democrats announced that they had arrived at a coalition agreement for the Reykjavík city council [Jón Gnarr for mayor, check], when the Channel 2 news hour had just finished, and halfway through RÚV’s evening news hour. This on a night when there was no 10 o’clock news hour [unlike other weeknights] and just before the weekend. Someone’s spin doctor obviously thought they were being crafty … only RÚV read the press release anyway, despite it arriving 15 minutes into the programme.
The largest grants he received came from companies and individuals close to Jón Ásgeir Jóhannesson and the Baugur Group camp, apparently because they saw him as the most likely candidate to beat out Björn Bjarnason for the top seat on the list — and the Baugur camp had a particular bone to pick with Björn. At the time he was Minister of Justice and Ecclasiastical Affairs, and there were major legal proceedings ongoing against Baugur [the so-called Baugur Affair]. In the end, Guðlaugur Þór was, indeed, victorious.
Some 40% of the grants to Guðlaugur Þór are still unaccounted for, however, as they apparently came from individuals who “requested anonymity” [that’s “óskar nafnleyndar” on this list with details of the grants] or who are deceased.
And now the public wants him out. He seems to be of no mind to go, however, and the current leader of the IP [Bjarni Benediktsson] says he’s putting no pressure on him to resign. After all, that’s not the way the cookie crumbles up at IP headquarters. Perhaps it would have been different had he been a woman: we’ve now had two female politicians resign in fairly close succession [Þorgerður Katrín Gunnarsdóttir and the aforementioned Steinunn Valdís]; the men in the crowd, however, do not seem to think it’s something that applies to them. They also seem to be subject to far less bashing than the women — however, that’s another story, and the subject for another post, perhaps.