Every political leader deserves a break, but this was a blatant dereliction of duty at a time of war
Published: 24 August 2022
At first, my instinct was to sympathise with Sanna Marin, the 36-year-old prime minister of Finland, who is in a media storm over videos of her scantily clad and dancing extremely enthusiastically both at a private party in her official residence and in a nightclub. I was, and still am, fed up with sanctimonious commentators making politicians’ lives a misery by demanding that they work seven days a week, tyrannically forcing them to curtail holidays they desperately need, and then complaining about the poor quality of their decision-making.
Unusually – since I nurture a deep suspicion of the dodgy anti-West ideologues who infest the peace industry – I actually agreed with Ashok Swain, a professor of peace and conflict research at Uppsala University in Sweden, who asked: “Why can’t she party after work? Do we expect our leaders not to be human beings?”
I even went so far as to nod at the comment of that intensely irritating and sanctimonious prime minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern: “How do we constantly make sure that we attract people to politics, rather than perhaps has historically been the case, put them off?”
Moreover, I’m in complete sympathy with Ms Marin’s complaint that she feels “like footage is being shot of me all the time, everywhere, and it doesn’t feel good. Even normal things are made to look bad”. And I believe her when she says she wasn’t involved when two of her friends, both social media influencers, were photographed kissing and topless behind her office desk.
But let’s look at the claim that the furore was caused by double standards, or even sexism. The internet is awash with videos of women showing solidarity with Ms Marin by hurling themselves around dance floors. They believe she’s under attack just because she is a young woman.
“I can’t stand gender double standards,” said Iratxe García Pérez, the leader of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats European parliamentary group. “I see uproar about Marin Sanna,” tweeted 36-year-old UK Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer, favouring us with a photo of herself gyrating strenuously. “Is the problem really that a female politician has a healthy work-life balance and dances with friends on a weekend? Or is it more fundamental – that she dares to be a 30-something woman in a position of power?”
That’s all nonsense. These days ridiculing men is the fashion. Look at the mockery of Michael Gove when last year he drank and danced the night away in an Aberdeen nightclub. Not to mention the gleeful shots of Boris Johnson’s plump stomach.
What is a matter of serious concern is that Ms Marin appeared to have undermined her country’s national security, for she had declared herself as being on round-the-clock duty on the weekend of the parties, as is required of at least one senior government official in part due to the country’s precarious security position. This comes at a time when Finland has enraged Vladimir Putin by bravely taking a strong pro-Ukraine stance and applying to join Nato.
Ms Marin seems able, calm, tough, level-headed, principled and an extraordinarily effective builder of consensus in her five-party, Left-wing coalition. She made a courageous and unequivocally supportive visit to Ukraine in May.
But the undeniable reality is that Putin will be seeking every opportunity to destabilise Finland, and as prime minister, Ms Marin cannot afford to provide opportunities for Russia to breach her country’s defences or undermine her leadership. The world is full of dangerous people and the one who hates her the most is particularly bad.
She needs to consider her country on a war footing – even on weekends, and especially when she is on duty – and ensure there are no opportunities for Russian agents to infiltrate her circle. If she wants to party, she needs to do it in a responsible manner and when her deputy is in charge, and consider excluding celebrity friends who depend for their careers on publicity. At the very least they should be frisked for cameras. She has apologised graciously but she does need to amend her behaviour. Her country needs her.
As for claims of sexism, is there anything more sexist than treating a female leader to different standards? These times are too serious for silly identity politics.