The leaders of Sweden’s political parties were photographed following a parliamentary debate on Wednesday and a red handbag has emerged at the centre of a new talking point.
Sahlin’s Louis Vuitton number has given rise to both criticism and support from commentators, bloggers and politicians alike.
“A Social Democrat party leader must always have social equality at the fore,” said left-wing writer Göran Greider to newspaper Aftonbladet.
“Consumerism comes from the rich. And the knock-on effect is that people loan money to be able to buy the same things. That’s why political leaders, especially from the left, must have a certain amount of responsibility. They need to be careful.”
Sahlin has not commented on the bag in question but her press secretary Camila Buzaglo told newspaper Svenska Dagbladet that funds for it did not come out of Sahlin’s own pocket.
“It was given to her by a friend for her 50th birthday,” she said.
Barbro Hedvall, former opinion writer for Dagens Nyheter and author of the book Style and Politics (Stil och Politik), thinks the debate has gone too far. At the same time she says choice of attire for those in the public eye is important.
“Clothes, posture and even hairstyles have meaning,” she told SvD. “Mona Sahlin has changed her style radically since she became party leader from tough city girl with short skirts to something a bit more average. A bit boring I think.”
Some of Sahlin’s party peers have jumped to her defence, including former equality ombudsman Claes Borgström, speaking to Aftonbladet.
“Had it been a man with a bag in the same price category no one would have reacted this way,” he said.
An article in Aftonbladet points out that Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt owns a luxury briefcase worth around the same amount of money as Sahlin’s bag.
It was given to him as a gift by French president Nicholas Sarkozy in 2007.
“I don’t think that leading politicians need to start giving an account for what clothes they have, Reinfeldt told the newspaper.
“I haven’t asked any question’s about Mona Sahlin’s bag and I don’t need to answer any when it comes to my own things,” he added.