Blue Reform founder quits, as party struggles for political relevance

Former MP Simon Elo says he's leaving the party he founded, although he'll remain affiliated with Blue Reform at local council level.

File picture of former Blue Reform Parliament Group leader Simon Elo, April 17th 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

One of the founders of the Blue Reform political party Simon Elo has resigned, saying he thinks the party can no longer be effective in politics.

It’s another nail in the coffin of the party which only formed in summer 2017 after splitting off from the main Finns Party parliamentary group. At one time Blue Reform had 20 MPs, including five government ministers, and was the junior coalition partner in government with then-Prime Minister Juha Sipilä (Centre) and National Coalition Party leader Petteri Orpo.

Blue Reform was wiped off the parliamentary map at the April general election losing all their seats.

The Finns Party however gained back all the seats they had lost during the bitter divorce from Blue Reform in the summer of ’17. It was political curtains for the upstart group, who found themselves crowded out in Finland’s political centre right.

“Of course this was a tough decision and something you don’t do lightly. I had to ponder over the whole summer. But I cannot demand from others what I cannot do myself and that’s something a leader of the party should do” says Elo, the former Parliamentary Group chair.

“If you believe in the prospects of the party, you can also make others believe. But if you think we have lost the means to do effective politics, and it is almost impossible to get those means back, I think it’s time to say it out loud” he tells News Now Finland.

Blue Reform election candidates, spring 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

Finnish system rewards parliamentary parties 

Under the Finnish system, registered political parties can receive significant financial assistance from the state when they have politicians elected to parliament.

In the government’s new draft budget proposal unveiled last week, there would be an increase in financial aid for parliamentary political parties. Critics have said this is a sop to the Centre Party, whose membership and financial stability took a hit during the last government, and as they slipped to fourth place in April’s general election.

“In our political system the party funding, which this government is increasing, also comes from the number of seats you have in parliament. And if you don’t have any seats in parliament you don’t have any funding. You don’t have much media coverage either. Many of the natural building blocks of political parties are taken away.”

In recent years a number of extra-parliamentary parties have had modest success at local council levels – like the Feminist Party, Pirate Party and Liberals – but without seats in parliament and official funding they’ve not been able to break through at the national level.

An electoral alliance in Helsinki between the Feminists, Pirates, Liberals and an animal welfare party was expected to gain one parliamentary seat but it failed to materialise.

Although Blue Reform hold 60 local council seats around the country, Elo doesn’t see that breaking through to the national parliament.

“It’s a sad situation to be in, but it’s also a part of politics to look at facts and make decisions, and the fact is we got that kind of bad election result” he says.

Elo will continue his job on the Espoo City Council, and be affiliated with the other Blue Reform politicians there, even though he’s not a party member.

Blue Reform parliamentary group chair Simon Elo (L) talks to voters at Tikkurila market, 17th March 2019 / Credit: News Now Finland

Future of Blue Reform as a political movement 

At their convention in June, there was some discussion among members about whether Blue Reform would continue at all.

The main political ‘stars’ have all now stepped back, and a new wave of lesser-known activists has taken the reins.

Former Europe Minister Sampo Terho “practically resigned from politics some months ago” confirms Elo. Former Foreign Minister Timo Soini chose not to stand as a candidate in national or European elections this spring, and instead is writing a book about populism – ironic perhaps, since he was the founding father of the populist True Finns party.

“All the ex-ministers are party members, but have said publicly in the media that they will continue in the councils where they are members, but will not continue in everyday [national] politics” explains Elo.

Elo himself is studying for a master’s degree at Turku University, and considering his next political moves.

Although he hasn’t actively discussed joining another party, he could be attracted to another conservative party like the National Coalition Party or even the Centre Party – although likely not while it’s aligned with the current red-green government.

“Will I find a new political home? It’s something I have to think about in the next six months. I have to be open about that as well and think if I have to be active in politics or do something else.” says Elo.

“Politics has been something of a passion for me. I have to be really careful when I think about what to do next.”

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