‘Finland, Finland, Finland — the country where I want to be. Po-ny trek-king or camp-ing. Or simply watching TV.’ But Monty Python got it wrong. Finland is more than just a cold, comedic nowheresville near to Russia. Not only is it the land of Nokia, bear pâté, the Moomintroll, and one of the few countries in the eurozone still doing business (one of only seven with an AAA credit rating) — but it may also save the world from the approaching euro armageddon.
For this last, we must thank an implausible hero named Timo Soini: implacable Eurosceptic, leader of Finland’s fastest-growing political party (the True Finns) and a diehard fan of Millwall Football Club. We meet in Eastbourne, shortly after he has given a rapturously received address to the Ukip conference.
Here are some of the lines that so delighted the punters.
‘You are so lucky to have the pound. You are so lucky — keep the pound!’
On the illegality of the bailouts.
‘This crisis has turned us into criminals. Who will respect politicians anymore after this? Who will trust the law if the law is not obeyed by us? We should be governed by the rule of law and by the members of the parliaments who we have ourselves chosen.’
‘These bailouts are immoral. We are pouring our money to the bad guys: to the governments that cheated us and to the bankers that made huge profits by taking reckless risks... It’s outrageous. I say, it’s outrageous!’
Yes, of course this is the sort of thing his mate Nigel Farage does very well too. But there are several key advantages Farage is lacking. He’s not built like a 1,500lb grizzly bear; he doesn’t have bull walrus jowls, stubble that makes Desperate Dan look like a L’Oréal ad and a Reg Varney quiff; he doesn’t support Europe’s roughest, lairiest football team. Timo Soini does and I’m sure it’s a huge part of his appeal: he can talk about abstruse economic issues without sounding a ponce; he has the aura of the grizzled, battle-scarred, tough but fair sergeant you’d follow to hell and back; he looks like a real man, rather than just another bloody politician.
Which is a bit misleading really, given that being a bloody politician is what Soini has always done. He studied politics at university, went on to become chairman of the Youth League of Developing Finland; rose through the ranks of the Finnish Rural party, which then mutated into the True Finns, which he has chaired since 1997. So far so boring: what’s more interesting is the way he has managed to do so with his integrity entirely intact.
Perhaps his finest hour came in April this year when he was taken up into an exceeding high mountain and shewed all the kingdoms of the world. In this case, the devil doing the tempting was Finland’s Conservative party, which was looking for a partner in its coalition government. As the closest right-leaning runner-up in the general election (they were beaten to third place by the Social Democrats) the True Finns were the natural first choice. But inevitably the partnership would come at a price...
‘They offered me the Ministry of Justice or Foreign Affairs, plus three other significant cabinet positions. I would also, of course, have become deputy prime minister. And my salary would have risen by €4,000 a month. But there was a condition for this. The condition was: accept the bailouts.’
But to do this would have meant betraying all the people who voted for him. True Finns had campaigned on a ticket opposing bailouts of eurozone member states. Unless countries like Greece could provide collateral for these loans, Soini argued, then it would simply be more money down the drain. This kind of robust common sense proved hugely appealing to voters. Where four years ago, True Finns had been a party of eccentric, nationalist backwoodsmen with 4.1 per cent of the vote, they had risen to become Finland’s third biggest party with 19 per cent of the vote.
Soini thought for a moment about this tempting offer for the price of his soul. ‘I could float in the stream,’ he thought to himself. ‘I could howl like the other wolves are howling.’ But he decided that he was better off outside the government with his integrity intact, than in it with his principles compromised. As he puts it to me later when discussing ‘climate change’ (he’s a sceptic, naturally), ‘There is only one truth.’
Soini got stick from his critics in the media for having been ‘scared to take power, to take responsibility’. But he seems to have made the right decision: support for the True Finns rose from 19 per cent to 22 per cent — making them Finland’s second biggest party (by just 0.5 per cent). Soini is now considering parlaying his popularity into a (second) bid for the Finnish presidency next January.
If he wins, then the EU will have gained its most Eurosceptical head of state since Vaclav Klaus. He is deeply pessimistic about the future. ‘In the longer run Europe is in danger of having so much red tape that the price of everything from agriculture to business is so controlled that you cannot make a profit any more. This may be good for the corporations, the trade unions and the politicians. But it is not good for the ordinary people who see power being concentrated to unelected people over whom they have no democratic control.’
So what does he propose we do? ‘We must win. Otherwise we will go towards soft fascism.’ By winning, he means restoring the democratic powers of sovereign nations, so that individual people rather than Brussels can decide their destinies. ‘If people lose their faith in democratic voting, that is dangerous,’ he says.
Two things (besides his ardent Catholic faith) give him hope. The first is the internet: ‘Blogs are essential. The concentration of power in the old media is very big but social media is the way round that. Of course, that is why already in Brussels they are trying to use lunatics like Breivik as an excuse to clamp down on freedom of speech.’ And the second is his understanding of what ordinary people really want: ‘They want to live their lives, have their jobs, raise their children — and be left alone.’ Amen to that, Timo.