Fraser Nelson

The power of celebrity candidates

The power of celebrity candidates
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Should celebrities stand to become MPs? I have just done a phone-in on Richard Bacon's Five Live programme where I was in favour of it. My point was that voting in someone like Esther Rantzen sends an important democratic message: that the voters think the Westminster menu is uninspiring. This is an entirely legitimate means of democratic protest. But, Bacon asked, don't you think they have that message? Well yes, but they only really take action if there is an electoral price to pay. Independent candidates are thorns in a traditional politician's side. And often they prompt action - think about the effect of the Referendum Party.

It's not impossible that the celebs come good. Who would have thought an actor like Reagan would have been such a transformative politician? How many laughed when Arnie stood for California? Celebrities are human too, and voters are often smart enough to see which of them may have a leader inside them. And if Joanna Lumley changed government policy from outside Westminster, who knows what she could achieve from inside.

My complaint with the UK system is that the Westminster parties focus on the swing voters in the swing seats, some 0.5pc of the electorate, and don't try to broaden their appeal as they should. The sad truth is that you can win power in Britain by being inoffensive, rather than exciting. These are the dynamics of the micro battle for the marginals. Most under-45s don't vote and many over-45s do so out of a sense of civic duty rather than enthusiasm.

I was up against Emily Hill from the Standard. She said that Rantzen was awful, and that the likes of Lumley wouldn't have a clue when they got into Westminster. That they would have no knowledge or affinity with the constituency they choose to represent. Fair point, but the same is true of many MPs with far fewer pre-election achievements.

And you vote not only to decide power, but to send a message. When the man in the monkey suit was voted Mayor of Hartlepool in 2003 it was an eloquent comment on the futility of the election for a mayor with almost no powers.

Toby Young called in to Bacon's show, by the way, and said he'd thought of standing but the reaction had been too hostile. I blame you, CoffeeHousers.

Britain had some 17m abstainers at the last election, almost as many as voted for the Tories and Labour combined. Our Westminster parties should nervously think of them as a sleeping army. If celebrity candidates can awaken some, and give our established parties less reason to take voters for granted, then so much the better.

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is the editor of The Spectator. He is also a columnist with The Daily Telegraph, a member of the advisory board of the Centre for Social Justice and the Centre for Policy Studies.

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