Friday, 29 May 2015

Six celebrity political endorsements from the UK 2015 election

Much is made of UK elections becoming more like their US counterparts. The personality-driven leadership debates are presidential; the campaigns grow longer; and big budgets mean money talks. Then there are the celebrity endorsements. We know who they're going to back before they open their mouths, usually the left and loudly. But do these celebrity pitches alter our voting behaviour? The election result, anecdotally at least, suggests not.

First I'll focus on three major leftwing endorsements I saw that could have been influential: Brit Award winning singer Paloma Faith; comic actor Steve Coogan; and egregious arsehole Russell Brand. All three came out to advocate voting for Labour and the left. All woke up disappointed on the morning of May 8th.

Paloma Faith - Source: author's own
1. Paloma Faith. The first endorsement on my list is Paloma Faith. She didn't quite spell out Labour, just that she grew up surrounded by socialism, hating evil Maggie Thatcher, and that Tories are selfish beings lacking in social responsibility or even basic empathy.

I'm a huge fan of Paloma's music, but less so her political posturing, or the warm up act booked when I saw her sing in March. Left-wing activist Owen Jones treated the 20,000 fans at the London O2 to a socialist monologue which was awkward to cringeworthy for anyone to the right of Fidel Castro.

I don't want to abuse Paloma Faith for speaking out about her own politics, as she mentioned at her gig she had already come in for some stick. However, while she's welcome to nail a red flag to the mast, she might want to reconsider her statements about those who seek similar societal ends (aspiration and social mobility) but by different (right-of-centre) political means. It also felt awkwardly un-English to subject paying fans to a political rally before the payoff of the gig itself. Luckily the music more than compensated for the crap before. Paloma, like most patronising celebrity lefties, has already vented her disappointment at the perceived lack of wisdom of the electorate.

Steve Coogan  - Source: The Labour Party
2. Steve Coogan. Much posted by left-leaning friends via Facebook, this was a clear "Vote Labour" pitch. As a huge fan of Steve Coogan's comedy, particularly Alan Partridge and The Trip, this was an awkward endorsement for me to sit through. But I did, because Coogan's a comedy genius and I'm interested in listening to what intelligent remarks he has to contribute, even if it has little chance in influencing my vote.

Coogan's pre-election message was a well phrased endorsement of the left's approach to furthering social justice and aspiration for all, by "not just about looking at number one" (like the Tories do). Indeed, his polished Labour endorsement video was such a professional political performance that to me it only drew attention by association to Ed Miliband's underwhelming stage presence as Labour leader.

Coogan stressed Labour commitment to fairness. Like most people on the right, I don't think the left is disingenuous, but rather I disagree about how resources can be used best to encourage individuals' social mobility, aspiration and enterprise. The sign-off slogan of "A better plan. A better future" to me highlighted the lack of a credible Labour plan on the crucial elephant in the room: competently running the UK economy, balancing the books and sustaining economic recovery, by encouraging business to generate real wealth, before Labour tries to redistribute it and tax it away.

Russell Brand - Source: Russell Brand - The Trews
3. Russell Brand. Now for a man who doesn't want to just remodel British capitalism, but dismantle it entirely, presumably to make way for a temple to his own hubris.

Ed Miliband's visit to Russell Brand's home was a risible act of political farce but entertaining to watch, as one moderate socialist (Ed) talked the self-styled leftist revolutionary demagogue into political engagement and endorsing the Labour vote. Again the talk was about social justice, but lacking any credible plan to deliver those ends with sustainable growth, aside from tax, borrow and spend.

I still can't put it any better than a maths-guy-turned-journalist-turned-economist friend of mine did, via Facebook at the time: 
"Obviously the immediate effect may be a jump in the Massive-Fucking-Fatuous-Moron vote; but there may equally be a counter-jump in the People-Who-Realise-Long-Words-Are-Not-The-Same-As-Content-And-Being-Angry-About-Something-Doesn't-Particularly-Help-Solve-It vote. But what if they become complacent, too many stay at home, and as a result there is a higher than expected Fuckwits-Who-Want-To-Wish-Away-Social-Problems-With-Magical-Money-Farting-Unicorns vote? Mind you, The Greens have been polling well for a while anyway."
Typically, Brand's gigantic ego has now has since claimed personal responsibility for Miliband's election failure. I would suggest that the "fatuous moron vote" - already followers of Brand - were always likely to vote Labour or Green or SNP anyway. (Not that all those who vote those parties belong to that demographic.) Brand's love of long words and lack of content was unlikely to win new voters to Labour.

Karren Brady - Source: John Morris Flikr
4. Karren Brady. There were, predictably, far fewer celebrity advocates for the Conservatives. The perceived stigma attached and risk of social media condemnation may be still high enough to put many off. Then there were three others that pointed to the right, although not particularly effectively.

Bizarrely, all three were made famous (or more famous) by appearing on The Apprentice (UK) in recent years. The first was businesswoman and Conservative peer Baroness Brady of Knightsbridge. Brady was one of 103 business leaders who signed a public letter in support of Conservative government in the run up to the election, to show "the UK is open for business".

Katie Hopkins - Source: ITV
5. Katie Hopkins. Hateful columnist Katie Hopkins, who claimed she'd leave Britain if Ed Miliband got into Downing Street, also found fame via The Apprentice. A terrible advert for right wing policies, she has uttered some truly awful remarks about immigration and Europe's ongoing "boat people" humanitarian crisis in the Mediterranean. Her promise to leave in the event of Labour victory would certainly have cheered me up if Red Ed had gotten to Number 10. I would also quite like to see Charlotte Church line up against her in the ring.

Lord Sugar - Source: Damien Everett
6. Alan Sugar.  Labour peer Lord Sugar. Okay, so I half lied about the last one, but his lack of Labour endorsement was noteworthy. And by quitting Labour shortly after the election, he has gone some way towards the position of his Apprentice colleague Brady by implication endorsing Conservative policy on promoting business and free enterprise.

East-end-boy-made-good Sugar has said he had purposefully stayed quiet during the election because he disagreed with Ed Miliband's "anti-enterprise" rhetoric. While he's no Tory, following his public disassociation from the Labour party, does he still count as a Labour peer?

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