Posted by: davidjmarlow | 18/11/2013

Has Borgen lost the X factor?

I would always choose to fill an empty saturday evening with Borgen, rather than ‘Strictly…’, ‘X factor’ or other ‘Britain doesn’t have talent’ fodder that fills ‘popular’ terrestrial slots. However, the double-header that launched Borgen’s third, supposedly final season posed a number of problems.

The premise that our hero – Birgitte Nyborg – is motivated to abandon the lucrative global lecture circuit to champion an internationalist openness and  tolerance in Danish domestic politics is promising. The execution, though, descended into formulaic soap opera – replete with distracting love/lust interest for our two heroines.

It is entirely credible to believe that the Moderate Party had sold its soul for political power; and  immigration is an ‘easy’ political signifier of that evolution. What was less credible was Birgitte’s inept challenge of the sinister, Clegg-ite leader of the Moderates. Her subsequent decision to start a new party came across as a shallow sulk rather than a matter of principle and conviction.

The continual emphasis on immigrants being deported for ‘misdemeanours’ was odd. Was it alright if they were going to be deported for more serious offences? And the right wing politician who defected to Birgitte’s ‘New Democrats’ because he was married to an Ethiopian lawyer and wanted their mixed race son to wear a hoodie, is a contrived device that subsumes political choice with personal concerns.

Is the problem with Borgen series three a loss of ideas and momentum illustrating just how difficult it is to present complex political drama without trivialisation of the narrative? Or, is the series three message (or ‘meta-narrative’ as the villainous lust-interest guy kept spouting) that all modern politics is nothing more than lowest common denominator soap opera?

This is an important distinction as Britain approaches 2014 EU elections, Scotland’s independence referendum, 2015 national elections, and a likely 2017 EU in-out referendum. And Borgen’s choice of immigration as the catalytic issue in Nyborg’s story has strong read-across to the UK.

cameron as chamberlainI have tweated that the coalition’s increasing little-Englander, anti-immigration positioning is fundamentally UKIP appeasement by a cowardly unprincipled Cameron, a power-hungry Clegg, and a ‘nasty party’ home secretary who knows no better. And I sometimes wish Labour would consistently and forcefully take up the Cameron-Chamberlain imagery.

But, Miliband-Labour’s response is ambiguous at best. Is Ed’s problem the complexity of articulating an internationalist, open, tolerant Britain as part of his ‘political project’? Or is he fundamentally part of a populist soap opera elite that has no appetite for engaging in serious political argument?

Of course the case for openness is not always easy. But the most ‘successful’ part of the UK economy – London – is also the only region with a majority non-white British population; and the south east is the third least non-white British region/nation. The Tory shires where Cameron is most running scared of UKIP tend towards White British majorities higher than UK averages, with mainly white non-British migrants (Polish, Portuguese and East European). My blog after the May elections argued that political apathy and failures of leadership of place are better explanations of UKIPs rise than rapid immigration.

In summary, Labour could choose to craft a progressive, open Britain, narrative. And maybe enough LibDems (voters if not MPs) will be brave and honest enough to forego Clegg’s ‘thirty pieces of silver’, and provide a winning alternative to Cameron’s UKIP-lite discourse. To do this, Ed desperately needs to reject soap opera populist trivialisation and communicate complex choices effectively.

Under the ‘soap opera’ scenario, on the other hand, Cameron’s UKIP-lite and Miliband’s ambiguous narrative in May 2014 will propel UKIP advances at EU elections. A Scottish public, rightly-terrified of a little-Englander Westminster, will entrench it by voting for independence in September – thus paving the way for Tory white supremacist English rule in 2015 national elections, and an ‘out’ majority in the subsequent EU referendum.

At this point, if politics is fundamentally a problem of presenting complex arguments clearly and persuasively (and England’s problem is poor quality political leaders), I could try my luck in Scandinavia’s European progressive social democracies. If ALL politics is soap opera then it may have to be flight to Brazzaville Beach.

The UK, desperately needs an intelligent ‘political project’ over the coming months to energise and enthuse radical, outward-looking  progressives, and engage a wider non-UKIP, non-Tory constituency.

For me, personally, a lot could be riding on how Borgen series 3’s ‘meta-narrative’ pans out over the next few weeks (although I must also try to get out more on saturday night). But even if series three ends up as soap opera, at least Borgen did at one stage have the X-factor – the coalition, never did!


  1. […] and UKIP-voter appeasement in advance of 2014 local and 2015 national elections (featured in my November blog). Pickles’ policy-making is an exemplar of the back of an envelope, making it up as we go […]

  2. […] blog has commented repeatedly in the last couple of years on the most probable Cameron/Clegg legacy – break-up of the UK, […]

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