Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Borgen: a template for collegiate, consensual politics?

The latest issue of Total Politics has a couple of articles on television political dramas. The first covers the usual and very entertaining mix of 'The Thick of It', 'A Very British Coup' State of Play' Yes Minister' 'House of Cards' are mentioned and are of course very British examples of the genre. The second article is about the hit Danish political drama 'Borgen' that certainly had me tuning in regularly for its depiction of the challenges facing the newly elected Statsminister Birgitte Nyborg.
Oddly the article by Caroline Crampton suggests the reason for Borgen's success with British audiences was because it couldn't happen here. Crampton posits that it portrays a politics that is 'collegiate, consensual, egalitarian yet still passionate' and appeals because it is unusual to us. Maybe in England it is but in the asymmetrically devolved UK parliaments and assemblies with their proportional representation, coalitions  power sharing and plurality of parties perhaps the narrative of Borgen is not such a distant concept.
Scotland has been governed since 1999 by two coalitions, one minority government and now a majority government. Its pr system has produced one rainbow parliament and the representation of women has been light years ahead of Westminster and currently both the Labour Party and the Tories are led by women with both parties now on to their second woman leader. Nicola Sturgeon the SNP's Deputy Leader and Deputy First Minister is surely in pole position to take on the top job when First Minister Alex Salmond steps down from the leadership of the SNP.
During the period that the SNP governed as a minority John Swinney's deft handling of the budget process and the managerial diplomacy of Bruce Crawford showed that a collegiate, consensual politics was achievable even if the main opposition party rarely wanted to play ball. Scotland also has pr in local government which has seen most councils run as coalitions again leading to negotiation over policies and pragmatic consensus emerging along with decision making structures to accommodate that.
In the other devolved nations we have seen coalitions in Wales and finally in Plaid Cymru's Leanne Wood a leader that could just be the Birgitte Nyborg of the piece (she'll love me for that I'm sure!).
If there is one devolved legislature which is probably most deserving of a tv drama it would have to be the Northern Ireland Assembly. A power sharing agreement between Nationalist Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party must provide fascinating material for drama with the history of the struggles and the IRA background of many Sinn Fein MLAs. The sensitivities of negotiation and agreement in the NI Assembly is surely a different politics which must have some degree of the collegiate and consensual in its pragmatism.   Though women play a less prominent role in NI politics there is a template from the Irish Republic with former Presidents Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese.
Viewed from the London centric village of Westminster Borgen may well seem like an alien version of politics but perhaps what the fiction of Borgen portrayed is not that far removed from the newer and evolving politics of the devolved nations of these isles. Whether it is or not Borgen is must watch TV and I can't wait for the next series.

Update #1: Leanne Wood Leader of Plaid Cymru the Party of Wales launches a crowdsourcing initiative to build the next Plaid manifesto. Ms Wood said, “We need to open the 'source code' of the policy development process - because politicians do not have a monopoly on good ideas. The glass panes of the Senedd should not just be there to improve transparency - they should also allow ideas from outside in.
“I want the Party of Wales to lead by example and create the world's first wiki-manifesto, a manifesto created collaboratively by the people of Wales, for the people of Wales.
“This proposal will enable everyone to propose ideas, to debate and discuss. Those ideas will culminate in a special conference of party members and policy advocates where the product of our national creativity will be ratified as Plaid Cymru’s programme for the 2016 elections.”
This initiative again shows a creative collegiate approach to politics coming from a radical leader of a radical party. Perhaps it is Westminster that is over? 

Update #2: News today (22/11/12) of the formation of a pro-independence Green/Independent grouping in the Scottish Parliament is perhaps an early indication of a collegiate realignment of Scottish Politics. This grouping will give its members a seat on the Parliamentary Bureau and therefore a say in the business of the parliament. Cynics will no doubt dismiss this move as self serving. However it is important as an indicator of what may become more common - alliances based on common cause that work to enhance influence. In the future there will be a realignment of Scottish Politics and this move could be one of the first pointers of how new alliances will be formed. 

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