What I’d give to see a politician like Sanna Marin in Number 10. Known as Finland’s “millennial prime minister”, Marin is perhaps best known for leather biker jackets, her love for Rage Against the Machine and – of course, as Finland’s youngest-ever prime minister – her age.
But with youth, personality and femininity comes relentless criticism. The most recent pile-on for Marin followed the leak of footage of a private party, in which Marin and friends can be seen – shock, horror – dancing.
The reaction was one of outrage. Marin faced calls to resign from critics of her centre-left coalition party, and after more images emerged of Marin’s friends kissing at the prime minister’s official residence after a music festival, Marin was forced to make a tearful apology and took a drug test to counter reports that she’d used illicit substances.
“Amid these dark times, I too sometimes miss joy, light and fun,” Marin levelled with the Finnish electorate. She said she’d never missed a day of work, or a single work assignment. She admitted the images were not what many Finnish voters would want to see, “but it’s private, it’s joyful, and it’s life.”
Regardless of what you think about what Marin gets up to in her private life – and whether you think it’s appropriate behaviour from a country’s leader – on the back of Boris Johnson’s Partygate scandal and the catalogue of deceit that followed, how refreshing it is to see a politician own a misgiving, apologise for it, and remind us all that despite their position as an elected leader, they are human.
Of course many have raised the question whether Marin’s private life would be held under the same scrutiny if she wasn’t young, attractive and female.
No politician is perfect. But the microscope that follows Marin to gigs and parties has dogged her from the start. Following her election in December 2019 journalists and pundits asked if Marin, then at the age of 34, had the political experience needed to run the country.
It’s an interesting question, because nobody asked the same of French president Emmanuel Macron when he was elected in 2016, just five years older at the age of 39, despite the fact he had less experience in politics than Marin when she was given the top job.
Since Marin was elected she’s come under fire for posing for a magazine cover in a low-cut blazer, for attending a rock festival in a pair of denim shorts, and now for her choice of friends and what she chooses to do in her spare time.
But while critics obsess over what the Finnish prime minister is wearing, Marin has taken the historic step towards joining Nato in a bid to protect her country’s future security.
Marin is in trouble for breaking the mould of who a politician should be, and what politicians should look like.
So what should a politician look like? Is it Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has admitted he doesn’t own a t-shirt or pair of jeans? Is it Margaret Thatcher, in tailored skirts and with hair styled in a stiff, immovable bouffant? Is it Rishi Sunak, with his suave designer suits? Or is it Liz Truss, a person who perhaps looks the part but whose policies somehow manage to shapeshift depending on which way the wind is blowing?
Regardless of what you think about Finland’s partying PM, Marin is showing the world that politics isn’t just for privileged men in suits.
Saskia Murphy is a Manchester-based freelance journalist. Follow her on Twitter @SaskiaMurphy