Musing on the political power of celebrities

As a young Conservative, I was sometimes embarrassed by the quality of showbiz celebrities fielded by the party to which I belong; Jimmy Tarbuck, Paul Daniels and Cilla Black just weren’t cool.

The Labour Party on the other hand was awash with hip showbiz types. In the 80s there was even a “Red Wedge Collective” which used the power of pop to campaign for Labour and contained such luminaries as Paul Weller and Billy Bragg and lesser gods such as Bananarama and Gary Kemp of Spandau Ballet.

Oddly, Neil Kinnock still didn’t get elected. And after a third consecutive Tory victory in 1987 Red Wedge faded away, in disgust no doubt at their “deplorable” countrymen.

Since then the Conservative party has fared little better when it comes to attracting premier league celebs: Jim Davidson, Vinnie Jones, David Van Day of the 80s pop duo, Dollar.

Brexit was another wicked reactionary cause that failed to garner top-class celebs; all it could muster were the likes of Ian Botham, Roger Daltrey and David Bailey; great in their day and in their way no question, but not exactly where it’s at.

But Bremain had Izzard and Geldof, Lily Allen, Daniel Craig, Benedict Cumberbatch, Idris Elba, the rapper, Plan B; the list goes on and on. Yet incredibly, faced with such an array of cool talent, the British still voted out.

And it’s not just in the UK that celebrity wisdom is so arrogantly dismissed. Amongst those suggesting a vote for anyone other than Hillary for POTUS would be morally wrong, were the mega-wealthy Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, Miley Cyrus, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Beyonce, Jay-Z and that’s not even half the A list.

What on earth is going on? Why are the top celebs nearly all liberal lefties and why does the public seem to delight in defying them? It’s a puzzle so it is, and I do not claim to have the solution, just an instinct about where we might look for one: Marlon Brando.

Brando once said that: “an actor’s a guy who, if you ain’t talking about him, ain’t listening.”

Might it be that liberal political positions provide the best opportunity for celebrities to win the attention they crave, to seize an outsized share of the big conversations, and display to the fullest their beauteous humanity? And all without any real cost to themselves, not even the endless envelope licking, door knocking and dull meetings that are the lot of a true activist.

But it seems that ordinary Brits and Yanks assign no more value to celebrity pronouncements on politics than they do to stock market tips from pole-vaulters.

They know such pronouncements are “category mistakes” a la Gilbert Ryle, though they may use a harsher term containing the letters B and S.

That’s not to say a showbiz type can never be taken seriously in politics, but first they have to put in the ground work. By the time the American people elected Ronald Reagan for example, he was an ex-actor. He had also been a political activist, a governor of California, and he had been tested in a gruelling electoral process.

Personally, I hope in future to hear rather less from celebrities about how I should vote, but I am not holding my breath.

As for the Tories’ abysmal failure to attract the coolest celebs, these days I actually prefer it that way. It’s no accident that our showbiz supporters of yesteryear sometimes had a whiff of the Seaside Special or London Palladium about them. Often of humble origins themselves, they had toured the clubs, piers and theatres night after night, year after year. They may never have been asked to become UN ambassadors but they were big on “charidee” nonetheless. They had earned their big houses on the edge of town, their golf club memberships and those villas in Spain, but they never forget where they came from and they never forget their fans. All of that made them natural Conservatives. No wonder they were sneered at by the condescendicrats.

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