During the last 30 years four political parties have each enjoyed around 20% shares of the votes with occasional lapses down to around 10%. Two other parties manage to secure around 10% with the rest achieving between 1% to 5%. This means that coalitions are the rule and involve many combinations of parties across the political spectrum.
Until recently the parties were reasonably conservative in keeping to the same rather dreary manifestos and avoiding extreme outbursts of populism. This quaint situation was smashed with the entry of the True Finns who started a reactionary narrow movement based on populist claims like small government and xenophobia. They thrive on disillusioned younger folk and less-educated members of society who feel ignored or let down by the mainstream parties.
Given the above, it is interesting to see how voters are now dealing with Sana Marin the former Social Democrat Prime Minister, whose party was removed from power when a combination of right-wing political parties secured a thin majority in the April general election. She then decided to leave Finnish politics and moved to Tony Blair’s Institute for Change (TBI) as a well-paid senior consultant. Mr. Blair saw that she was well-recognized and respected by senior politicians in the free world. In other words, she landed a great job for which she was well-prepared in the international arena.
In Finland, however, this most exceptional Finnish Prime Minister, is said to have done a “Runner”, according to her critics… She rose from being a municipal politician to the top seat of the Social Democrats and ended up as Prime Minister with a strong number of voters from her constituency and remained in her job until that next general election without suffering from much unpopularity. That was quite an achievement given that most governing parties lose votes because you cannot please all the voters all the time, especially when hard decisions must be made.
As PM she attracted a lot of positive attention both in Finland and abroad because she spoke clearly and was always well prepared, another factor that distinguished her from past and present Prime Ministers, where the rule is that men in gray suits, white shirts and red or blue ties repeat vague statements like “Let’s wait and see, what will be decided in Brussels ” when asked about important matters concerning politics, taxpayers money and interests.
As a Social Democrat, she did not align herself to the powerful and self-serving trade unions here, that only protect the pay of their members while ignoring the concerns and plights of other workers. She also avoided pushing policies that benefited the financial sector, the construction sector, and other powerful lobbies that control the Finnish Confederation of Employers. In many ways she represented the people and did a reasonably good job during Covid and positioning Finland in the right place when Russia attacked Ukraine. In the former, we had one of the lowest relative numbers of deaths, and in the latter, we joined NATO, at last.
Finland is a conservative country where things move slowly when they need to move faster! Run of the mill politicians do not hesitate to act because of strategic reasons, but rather like cows chewing the cud in the summer meadows, they remain clueless or undecided when they should be charging ahead with reforms.
One good example is that Ms. Marin exceptionalism is that she managed to pass the important Healthcare Reform through Parliament during here short tenure after past governments had been debating it for over 15 years! The wait was far too long given our fast-aging population and soaring healthcare costs…
One of the key reasons for this political inertia is that there are just many strong lobby groups from banking, retail, construction, transport, energy, and media sectors, where one, two or three large companies can run virtual monopolies. These companies look after their political friends with generous supporters at election time. Finns are also slow by nature – genetic evolutions in each generation have been moulded by our hard cold winters.
Sana Marin was an exception to the normal run-of-the-mill politicians. She was the child of a single mother and had to work hard to prove herself to herself – she is the type of person who is self-motivated to succeed rather than being just ambitious. This self-imposed drive was probably a strong reason why she left national politics because the pressures of work and from outside can be crushing for those of us that seek to succeed through diligent hard work. The buffering from opposing interests can be unnerving…
While PM, she did run into some criticism for partying loudly while having a few too many drinks according to the sad teetotallers here. The media loved this and kept on reporting for days as if she was the only person in politics to do so… these repeated attacks must have been tough for her, given that Finland has a particularly long history of older male political leaders who enjoyed their bottle rather too often… something which many felt is not suitable for female political leaders…
Her critics are now in full swing, helped along by whispering in the halls of Parliament that one more socialist has decided to start to enjoy the pleasures of bankers and CEOs! That could not be further from the truth. The Foundation does good work with fees from various governments including Saudi Arabia and the USA, as well as cash earned by Mr. Blair’s speaking engagements – let these leaders pay for hearing former politicians talking about what the listeners should already know but do not implement! In the end you never know what positive surprises may suddenly appear.
Ms. Marin will face many tough leaders and their followers. She will try to bring home why our way of life is better for all, rather than what they are doing. In other words, pocketing state revenues for a life of luxury while the rest of the population is living in poverty or with very low incomes is not a smart or sustainable result. Just look at this Nordic model can achieve – we can live longer, live safer in cleaner environments.
Your correspondent would rather have Ms. Marin lecturing on the above topics rather than the folks from Goldman Sachs that has also started an institute called the “Office of Applied Innovation”, which is most certainly a marketing tool for more investment banking business…
We need to spread the news about what the Nordics are doing, and good luck to her in her new position!