It’s fashionable to like all things Scandinavian on TV at present and I must admit to being a devotee of Borgen. It’s the only time in my life I’ve ever rooted for another party: but Birgitte Nyborg (played by Sidse Babett Knudsen) has my vote. She certainly has my avid attention to every twist and turn of her life, public and private.
Borgen – The Castle – the popular name for the Christiansborg Palace, where the Danish parliament is located, is a well-crafted political drama/thriller that shows the threads running between politics, the media, coalitions, spin doctors, and the occasional lover-turned-corpse.
It’s a world away from the imposing corridors of Westminster. Setting foot in Parliament for the first time in 1997 I found my coat hook with a ribbon to hang my sword on. The maleness of Westminster was reinforced by emergency construction that was needed to provide more ladies’ loos because of the influx of 101 Labour women MPs.
The political caste is also more everyman at the Castle. Denmark ain’t as stuffed with class warriors and aristos as Westminster is. No Dennis Skinners laying into the Eton rifles on Borgen (but then Denmark did abolish their equivalent of the House of Lords back in the 1950s).
The political world of Nyborg, who rises to be PM from multi-party shenanigans, is different again. British politics is unused to such power dealing. Rumour has it Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition discussions have focused on being “Borgenlike”, or was that “Borgenlite”?
The representation of politics in Nyborg’s world is much closer to real politics, where life is more nuanced than is often portrayed in British political dramas. The politicians have private lives that affect their mood, intrude on their work. Any MP with children knows all about that. When mine arrived home from school I’d get a message on my pager during a meeting saying, “Bring back some bread and milk.” Like I could really sort that out from 170 miles away.
The children weren’t living a feral lifestyle in Doncaster, as they had their dad, my husband Phil, there. We wised up to how good they became at working “the system”. A phone call wanting my blessing for doing/staying/wearing something in the hope of a “yes” from me, because Phil had said “no”. Like Birgitte, I have sometimes resented the squeezed time with my family and the irritating work interruptions that have no sympathy for work/life balance.
Of course, Borgen has ministers in expenses scandals, spin doctors briefing journalists and so on, but Nyborg is our bellwether: she holds the line; she makes moral choices. She is tough and ambitious, but honest with it; a million miles from the strident feminist, the over-ambitious woman, and a host of media shorthands used to demean women in UK public life. And she cycles because she likes cycling, not as a PR stunt (there’s no limo trailing behind with the ministerial papers).
In our politics, we all put on our best face… never show the cracks. In Westminster, there are a hundred real stories of MPs caring for a parent with dementia, managing a partner’s cancer, an unexpected operation, a teenager who’s gone off the rails. It’s the stuff never talked about. Borgen gives an insight into that private world.
Just as fans of The Killing fell in love with Sarah Lund, so devotees of Borgen have bought into Nyborg. She’s got my vote.
Caroline Flint is shadow energy and climate change secretary
Borgen is back on BBC4, Saturday at 9pm