Can we learn from the Pirates leading the polls in the home of the world's oldest parliament?

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Postcard from Reykjavík


The photo above shows the location of the world’s first parliament, which was established here in Þingvellir, Iceland in 930. Interestingly, the Alþingi or Althing was held in the fissure (like a plain) between the edge of the European continental plate (on the right) and the end of the American continental plate, which is out of shot to the left.

I visited this historic site on Monday and was inspired by the awesome setting and its parliamentary history. It’s a place with much to offer those interested in geology and the history of democracy alike. The parliament moved to Reykjavík in 1844, where it has taken place ever since. The building on the right was constructed in the 1930s and is now the Icelandic Prime Minister’s summer residence.

During my amazing visit to this remarkable island nation, I noticed an article on the success of the Icelandic Pirate Party in the local English language newsheet, the Reykjavík Grapevine. They have three MPs and have led the polls for seven months on the trot. This is unprecedented in Iceland. The Grapevine reports:

This summer, Píratapartýið (The Pirate Party)—a small, radically forward-thinking, activism-based political organisation—stormed from being a marginal presence with three sitting MPs (out of 63), to being the front-runner in the national opinion polls. Amongst many reformist policies, their agenda includes an eye-catching reboot of democracy itself, via increased voter participation that allows the people to guide parliament on key issues via e-democracy, direct influence on policymaking, and referendums.

The Pirate Party is an international organisation that began in Sweden, and first made their name championing copyright reform and freedom of information. But the Icelandic group took an ingenious next step when they extrapolated their political philosophy into a framework they call the Core Policy. These guidelines were employed to create the Pirate Platform—a wide-ranging manifesto that covers everything from fishing quotas and healthcare to internet porn and data protection (both the Core Policy and the Pirate Platform can be found on their website).

Reading through the Icelandic Pirate Party’s Core Policy and Pirate Platform there seems much with which we, as Liberal Democrats, can agree. The whole package seems refreshingly visionary, modern, radical and forward-thinking. There’s an air of insurgency about it all. I wonder if we can learn something from all this. The Pirate party has the sort of reforming zeal which is, and has been, often the raison d’être of our party but which did, perhaps, get muddied and blunted by the tawdry compromises of coalition government. Maybe it’s unrealistic nostalgia, but I wistfully remember conferences in the 90s when our party had such a clear, uncompromising reforming zeal.

A good example of Iceland’s Pirate Party in action is the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative which, as a set of laws, was shepherded through parliament by Pirate MP Birgitta Jónsdóttir (pictured below). The Independent reported in October 2011:

Iceland has passed a sweeping reform of its media laws that supporters say will make the country an international haven for investigative journalism.

The new package of legislation was passed unanimously at 4am yesterday in one of the final sessions of the Icelandic parliament, the Althingi, before its summer break.

Created with the involvement of the whistleblowing website Wikileaks, it increases protection for anonymous sources, creates new protections from so-called “libel tourism” and makes it much harder to censor stories before they are published.

“It will be the strongest law of its kind anywhere,” said Birgitta Jonsdottir, MP for The Movement party and member of the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, which first made the proposals. “We’re taking the best laws from around the world and putting them into one comprehensive package that will deal with the fact that information doesn’t have borders any more.”

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