So Arnold Schwarzenegger is the new governor of California and we can all shake our heads and chuckle. Those Yanks eh, they’ll fall for anyone with a media profile, a fistful of dollars and a pretty wife. They had an actor in the Whitehouse once remember. And doesn’t Arnie just sum up the macho-dumb, shoot-first-ask-questions-later America that we fear and despise.
It could never happen here could it? We British wouldn’t fall for a celebrity, we want politicians who understand the issues, who can articulate our concerns and act on them. Politics is a serious business and showbiz candidates would be laughed out of the race. Wouldn’t they?
Well I think we can safely say that Arnie specifically would not have had such an easy ride in the UK. First of all, forget the showbiz for a minute, would an Austrian be accepted as a British politician? We might let the odd Kiwi in here and there but it is hard to imagine British conservatives rallying behind someone with a German accent.
The groping scandals don’t appear to have had much impact on the election result. But then the American media spent much of the time discussing the precise timing of the LA Times reports and questioning the use of anonymous sources. I somehow doubt the British press would have been so introspective about the story.
Those women kept their identity secret because they didn’t want the hassle after the LA Times published their stories. In the UK they would have been offered the usual tabloid incentive – a nice wad of cash. If they rejected the offer the papers would have competed with each other to find other women.
And never mind that heartwarming tale about him chasing off Nazis at a demo in his youth – the tabs would have found his first girlfriend back in the Austrian village who would spill the beans on how Arnie stuck his tongue in her ear before cheating on her. Every day there would have been a fresh headline about his tit-grabbing antics and it would have gone across the spectrum. He would have been slaughtered.
Then there comes the question of his wealth. The super-rich rarely stand for election in Britain – they have other ways of getting their way. In the US surely someone like Richard Branson would have moved into politics, just look at Michael Bloomberg, yet we never even consider such people. And of course, at the heart of this, we have a radically different attitude to success and wealth than Americans.
And then, of course, there is the celebrity-factor itself. We hate stars who move out of the realm of fantasy and into the real world. We despise them for blurring our lines of distinction and ‘trivialising’ debate. They are our court jesters, we like them to entertain us but don’t want them to start getting any ideas about how to run things.
If, like Bob Geldof and Bono, clearly intelligent and compassionate people, you are capable of winning acceptance as a public figure, the result is you are mocked by your old friends in the music press – poor old ‘Saint Bob’ he hasn’t had a hit record since Live Aid, Bono has become a ‘preacher’.
Many celebs like to make platitudes about homelessness or racism or war being bad – its good for the image and campaigners love to get a ‘name’ on board. But woe betide any of them who get party political – Sean Connery came out for the SNP and received a chorus of “what the hell do you know about Scotland?”. Tracey Ullman got cuddly with Neil Kinnock and we have never seen her this side of the Atlantic since.
So at all costs we must protect our political elite from the poisonous injection of celebrity. How we must respect our serious politicians who are in-touch with our needs and concerns – far better to leave the running of the country to people from such diverse backgrounds as the legal profession, right?
But of course we don’t respect our politicians. We are constantly being reminded of how low esteem is for the political elite. Polls tell us that we think they are out-of-touch, careerists, lying party hacks. Turn out in elections is at an all-time low. We have even elected a monkey to mayor as a protest.
Do famous people automatically have to be ruled out of the recruitment pool for politicians? Many of them have come from working class backgrounds and have gone on to travel the world picking up interesting new perspectives and ideas. Sure some of them live in a bubble and have lost touch with everyday reality but they would soon get caught out. The ones who have some real experience and some fresh ideas could bring some new life to politics.
Could the celebrity politician really not work in Britain? Celebrities may be national figures but they are also local heroes could help popularise regional governments or champion their constituency.
And would Bob Geldof really not make a better contribution to the national debate than half the backbenchers in parliament? Would Richard Branson not be more interesting to listen to than most members of the House of Lords? Would a retired Alex Ferguson not make a better constituency MP than yet another careerist thirtysomething?
Or should we really just leave it to the lawyers?