Last night I chaired a discussion at the London School of Economics about the ‘celebrification’ of politics. I was surprised that no-one on the panel, nor anyone from the audience, made a single plea for policy over personality. Everyone essentially accepted that we’ve always had the politics of celebrity, since the very birth of democracy, that people are today simply recreating the village culture of gossip using whatever media is available. Furthermore, no-one last night thought this was anything but natural and worthwhile.
This was a welcome relief from the self-styled statesmen of journalism who are forever bemoaning the dropping of standards. By contrast, the Polis/LSE discussion accepted that a major task for voters is to establish the true nature of those who would be our leaders and that this inevitably done through ‘celebrification’ ranging from soft human-interest stories to scandal-mongering.
I tend to agree with that. I do think policy is vital, but I’m confident that voters are pretty good at discerning their self-interest through all the babble. What voters also need to know is what kind of people are in place to take the difficult decisions when events present them with the unexpected. Politician’s behaviour as spied through the media is as close as most people are going to get to knowing that.