William Petzäll is an odd young man, not least because his skin has the orange hue of someone who spends too much time on a sunbed. An intelligent and articluate young man, he would be a likeable eccentric – if he wasn’t a Member of Parliament for the far-right, anti-Muslim Sweden Democrats.
For how long more remains to be seen. Petzäll recently spent a night in the drunk tank after police were called to his apartment, and a press release from his party states that he is taking a time-out from politics because of it. Quick, some would say ruthless action, to save the party from embarrassment. The Sweden Democrats didn’t get elected because of a penchant for drunkenness or violence, despite their skinhead roots.
Contrast that with the Irish attitude. Our dear leader Brian Cowen made what can charitably be called an “underwhelming” appearance on the radio following a night on the piss with journalists and lackeys. It subsequently turned out that he had spent the night singing, joking and doing impressions of public figures, including a particularly cruel one of golfer Philip Walton.
In the first instance, the hacks stayed silent – the Taoiseach’s performance was “informal” and “off the record”, and he even wagged his finger as he told them he didn’t want to see any of this in print. Despite the whole sad episode taking place in the public domain, they complied. But when the story of his cruel mimicking of Walton came out, they fell over themselves to condemn him, conveniently ignoring their own complicity in the culture of silence.
Then there is the issue of the Taoiseach’s drinking itself. Here was the leader of the country who, during the biggest crisis since the foundation of the state, was partying on down with the fourth estate and taking pot-shots at public figures. Whether or not Brian Cowen has a drink problem is beside the point – whatever it was, it was far from appropriate behaviour for a man in his position. And yet, somehow, he survived. Again.
It seems that there is a massive discrepancy in attitudes between Sweden and Ireland- what appears to have been a minor indiscretion in his own home has more or less cost Petzäll his political career, whereas Cowen’s tremendous insensitivity and appalling judgement went entirely unpunished. A drunken politician who behaved in a threatening manner, albeit in his own home, is forced – by his own party – to take the walk in sackcloth and ashes, whereas Biffo’s bodyguards gathereed around and spun a line about the pressure he was under.
Maybe this will change on February 25, but I doubt it. Because of our own attitude to drink, we are quick to forgive others their indiscretions when on the sauce, but we might well have cause to be a bit more discerning.
Maybe the old saying “In Vino Veritas” (in wine, the truth), holds true; maybe Cowen was just a boorish,drink-sodden incompetent not fit to lead the country. But if that was the truth, why didn’t we act on it when given the chance? Why didn’t his party send him out to pasture? And what will happen next time one of our leaders gets too fond of the sherry?