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General Election Politics Television

The question we’re all asking: who is winning this election, The West Wing or Borgen?

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By Mark Lowe | founding partner

April 7, 2015 | 5 min read

Even in an age of slick professional politics, British electioneering can be a stuffy, parochial affair and Thursday's leaders’ debate gave political operatives the chance to indulge in their favourite pastime – fantasising that they are starring in a foreign TV drama with good-looking actors.

The two classics of this genre are leftist cheese-fest The West Wing and its caffeinated Scandic cousin Borgen. So which box-set is winning the ground game so far? Let’s look at the evidence.

The women

Everyone loves West Wing press secretary CJ Cregg, but Borgen set up a stronger cast of female characters and Nicola Sturgeon was practically channelling Danish PM Brigitte Nyborg on Thursday night, ably supported by Leanne Wood and Natalie Bennett (Borgen 1: West Wing 0)

The spin room

After years starved of the glamour of a TV debate, there was no way that ITV’s West Wing-mad producers were going to pass up the chance to have a 'spin room', a mainstay of the US drama. Our version was more cringeworthy but Paddy Ashdown did do a passable impression of wrinkly Albie Duncan, the Republican who stumped for Democrat Jed Bartlett in season four. (West Wing 2: Borgen 0)

The 'free for all'

American politics hasn’t had a viable third party since Theodore Roosevelt ran as a Progressive in 1912, so West Wing leaders’ debates are strictly a two-man show. The best was the Vinick/Santos head-to-head, filmed in front of a live audience and eerily predictive of the Obama/McCain debate two years later. In Denmark, it seems pretty much anyone can set up a political party and Thursday night’s bun-fight suggests that Britain could be moving that way too. Thankfully Nigel Farage is better looking than his fictional equivalent Svend Åge Saltum (West Wing 2: Borgen 1)

Debate prep

According to last week’s Guardian: “The Labour team took themselves out of London for professional 'debate prep' session in which Tony Blair’s former director of communications, Alastair Campbell, played Cameron”. Of course this wasn’t their idea, they nicked it directly from the West Wing season four, when the entire cast went to a barn in New Hampshire and shouted at each other. (West Wing 3: Borgen 1)

The operatives

This is where fact and fiction start to bleed together, with both major parties bringing in their own Bruno Gianellis (WW Season two/three) from the iconic Obama campaign: David Axelrod and Jim Messina. Whether these stellar operatives will earn their fee like Bruno did remains to be seen – as one Twitter wag put it following Axelrod’s appointment, “a bunch of hacks at HQ who interned in DC are pretending they're on the Santos campaign”. (West Wing 4: Borgen 1)

Charismatic, academically inclined leaders from the progressive left

Fiction: Jed Bartlett and Brigitte Nyborg. Reality: Ed Miliband. I guess that’s why we need TV (West Wing 5: Borgen 2)

The Verdict

5:2, the West Wing is edging it so far but who will make it over the line on election day? The suspense is killing me, I think it’s time to rack up another episode.

Mark Lowe is a founding partner at Third City. Follow him on Twitter @markrlowe

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