Loving Borgen, but I do just have three questions about it…

by Stephen Tall on January 12, 2012

So I’ve finally caught up with BBC4’s new Danish import, Borgen — which is to coalition tangled-web politics what The Killing was to grisly tangled-web murders.

And it’s great. Really. I mean, the leader of the Moderates, Birgitte Nyborg, sparks a dose of ‘Cleggmania’ which actually works… she gains more seats, and forms a government. This is Lib Dem dreamland!

Such a contrast to the UK whose electorate was briefly infatuated with Nick’s appeal for a new politics, lost its bottle, then blamed my party for their own weakness.

So I’m loving Borgen, along with 629,000 others. And yet. I have three questions about its realism, questions I realise may reflect an Anglo-centric view of politics, but undermined my belief in its credibility…

1) Where are the hangers-on? In The Killing, Troels Hartman — merely a candidate to be mayor — enjoyed palacial offices and a troupe of advisors. Perhaps that simply reflects continental Europe’s recognition of the importance of localism, but I can’t help feeling Birgitte is being short-changed with one bearded academic whose role appears to be to offer her male wisdom from history when she lapses into female indecision in the present.

2) Where is the discussion of her media strategy? Now I realise coalition negotiations are the norm in European countries, so there won’t be the same frenzy of activity which consumed the hyperbolic UK press in May 2010, with camera crews doorstepping every senior politician, and a permanent fleet of 24-hour news channel helicopters circling parliament. But at no point in the first two episodes was any consideration given to the media line needed to accommodate the rapdily swinging pendulum of fortunes as Birgitte swung from hero to zero and back again.

3) Where are the informal back-channels that exist between parties? In the UK there are drinks and friendships between like-minded folk who through quirk of background or circumstance find themselves in opposing parties. They talk to each other, feed back to their respective groups, help smooth the discussions during tricky negotiations. Yet when the slimy Labour leader Michael Laugesen stitches her up by double-dealing with the Greens and left-wing Solidarity group, Birgitte simply accepts it, makes them no counter-offer. And how does she discover the identity of Labour’s new leader? Not through her spies (or even on Twitter) but on the TV news bulletin, as if this were the 1980s.

These may be unfair cavils. Borgen might have captured the essence of Danish politics, and it just happens to be different to its British version. In which case fair enough. Besides if it weren’t for Denmark what would I watch on telly? So tak, and all that.