There have been a couple of attempts to see whether Borgen, with its portrayal of mature multi-party politics can teach anything to us in the UK, which is late to the game. In particular, given that there’s a seven-way TV debate tonight, what should we note from the debates in series 1 and 3 in which Birgitte steers her unfancied party to the cusp of office? As Borgenistas would put it, if in tonight’s debate, What Would Birgitte Do?
Fact is, brilliant though it is, Borgen doesn’t tell us a great deal we didn’t know already. In series 1, Birgitte goes for authenticity. ‘All of us here have become ever so professional,’ she says, explaining that she’s got too tubby for her dress and inviting the audience to allow politicians to be imperfect but real. There are chimes of Matt Santos’ charge for the Democratic presidential nomination in series 6 of The West Wing. But we already know that politicians who appear authentic seem to do well: Farage and Johnson are two examples of this.
What Borgen perhaps reminds us here is that authenticity on its own is not enough. The maverick leaders of the Freedom party can’t overcome the limited appeal of their extremist policies. You need enough substance as well as enough style to put you over the line. Indeed, the debates between Bartlet and Ritchie in series 4 of The West Wing are all about depth in debate – even if Ritchie is too much of a cardboard cut-out to be a realistic character.
Back in Europe, Borgen series 3 gives us a different approach. Birgitte has risen and fallen and has had to found a new party to get back into politics. This time she plays the man, not the ball. Her arch-rival Jacob Kruse has a rotten temper: she goads him until he snaps. Cameron is well-known for his bad-tempered responses at PMQs: winding him up is a risky strategy and a rather kamikaze one. We see in series 1 of Borgen how Labour leader Laugesen’s attempt to attack Prime Minister Hesselboe (a strategy that was offered to and was rejected by Birgitte) backfires.
Series 3 of Borgen was shown in Britain in 2013. It contained one further lesson, though, but one we had already learned in the UK. The catalyst for Birgitte’s return to Danish politics is that Kruse has led the previously left-leaning Moderates into deals with the centre-right bloc. By the end of the series, Birgitte’s New Democrats hold the balance of power. The final half an hour shows how she in turn leads her party into an alliance with the centre-right. What we don’t learn is how that move is welcomed by her supporters. On 8 May as the results of our own election are known, we’ll know what happened to our own moderates, whose alliance with the centre-right shocked many of their own people.