I was going to post this last week and it’s now slightly past its read-by date, but I was deafened by the cacophony of juvenile hysteria with which the public greeted their discovery that Nick Clegg was not ejected from the 3rd round of last year’s Britain’s Got Talent but is, in fact, a politician who is not a Tory or Labour. “There’s a third party?!”, they squeeled, like children who’ve just discovered that the house their parents have rented for the holiday has a trap door. “But, but where does it lead?!” It leads to a hung parliament, kids, and you need to think very carefully before going down there.
Anyway, since that metaphor isn’t really going to work, let’s move to another matter that had me punching my trackpad late last week. Past its read-by date this particular thing might be, but the overall message certainly isn’t. It is that celebrities should not comment on politics. By celebrities I mean all celebrities, but sadly, in this particular instance, I mostly refer to comedians or writers of whom I am, in every other way, a huge fan.
Now, I am no Stalin; they are free to say as they wish. By ’should not’, I mean ’should not if they want to retain a shred of credibility, if they want to sound like they know what they’re talking about in any way whatsoever’. Politicians, for all their foibles, do not opine about what is and what is not funny or worth watching on TV. So why is it that so many otherwise brilliant comic creatives decide we must bear aural witness to their ill-informed, unfounded and bigoted views? What makes this so much worse is that their invariably stupid opinions, instead of being shot down in flames as they should be, as they would be if they were on Question Time in a sensible part of the country, ride a wave of false credibility by virtue of their popularity. Listen up, the public: Just because somebody has become famous for being funny, just because they are known of by more people than they know, does not give them a uniquely vivid, all-seeing view over the population and how they should be governed. They know no more than you or I.
Probably should have made that catchier, more like a one-liner perhaps. Well, sometimes things aren’t that simple.
Eddie Izzard is the person positioned most centrally on my target, at least for the moment. Charlie Brooker, Stephen Fry and Chris Addison also feature, as does anyone else who thinks Thatcher was yesterday and jokes about her somehow constitute funny and new material. Attacking these people feels like turning a gun on my own family, but I can’t bear it anymore. These are intelligent people failing to do their research or whacking off another indolent column without a thought to the fact that perhaps Dan Hannan is entitled to say what he likes about the NHS. Perhaps, Brooker, he knows a tiny bit more than you about the welfare state; it is, after all, his job. I disagree with Hannan too, but I wouldn’t attack it if I were paid to write about television. We all know you can rattle off insults better than most, but deploying your verbal guns in an attempt to overturn a political argument, based on actual things, makes for pretty sad reading.
It was bad enough when I discovered many years ago that Izzard, my childhood hero, the man who could make socks getting stuck in the washing machine funny, was a die-hard Labour lover, but I got over that when I was old enough to understand that other people could have opinions too (circa 12 years old). Graciously, I maintain that view today, in spite of all the odds. People are free to support the Labour party, of course they are. But seriously Izzard, do you have to be so bigoted? Anyone who attacks people of an opposing political hue by resorting to such pathetic, lazy vitriol insults only their own party. This goes for left and right alike, but for some reason – I’ve no idea why - many on the left seem almost programmed to take this line of attack; it appears to be in their DNA; it is their default position.
Toby Young is absolutely right that Izzard’s delivery is brilliant, and as a Party Political Broadcast it is light years ahead of anything produced by the parties themselves, past or present. But this undeniable fact does not take away from the appalling content. Here is a selection of quotes:
- “I’m doing the broadcast because I take great offence at the Tories slagging off Britain, saying it’s broken.”
- “I ran around the country and I found that Britain is brilliant.”
- “People from all kinds of backgrounds ran with me. Kids from rural estates and kids from inner city areas.”
- “The country has a big heart, which I saw even while we were going through tough times.”
- “The Tory party have changed their suits, but still don’t believe in fairness, otherwise they wouldn’t be in the Tory party.”
- “They [the Tories] just want to take all the money and spend it on themselves and live in big houses and then have ducks and duck ponds.”
- “If you look back through the history of the Tory party, have they ever been nice to people? No. They’re nice to themselves. That’s why they joined the Tory party. They want to help themselves move forward and be richer and have duck ponds.”
I hardly know where to begin. You might say, oh calm down, he’s only making fun of them, he’s not serious. Well then f*** off out of politics, because like it or not, it is serious. You ran around the country and “found that Britain is brilliant”? Give me strength. I’m really pleased you had a good time Eddie, but has it occurred to you that maybe, just maybe Britain appeared to be “brilliant” because people think you are “brilliant” and consequently, rather than stabbing you, were really very welcoming, supportive and nice? I don’t like Cameron’s Broken Britain rhetoric either, but it doesn’t mean there’s nothing wrong with the country. Do you have anything to say about that? Any comments on Labour’s relatively successful efforts to tackle child poverty? No. Of course not.
For exactly the same reason that the parents of victims of knife crime should not front campaigns and have their requests made law, celebrities’ views on the state of the country should not be adhered to. Theirs is the one perspective from which all observations are invalid, because it is uniquely skewed in the positive (celebrity) or the negative (victim), when what we actually need is an objective, critical and analytical viewpoint in order that problems might be solved without causing new ones. In order that we might progress and improve in such a way that we all benefit. That is the supposed aim of politics, no?
The Tory party, Eddie tells us, “don’t believe in fairness”. If I had read this in a level 1 SATS essay from the grandchild of Arthur Scargill I might understand, but from an adult this is embarrassingly vacuous and pathetic. All politicians believe in fairness, for Christ’s sake. By all means disagree on their proposed ideological route to fairness, but to start whining, “The Tories want to take all the money and spend it on themselves and live in big houses and then have ducks and duck ponds”, is lazy, stupid, deeply irresponsible and plainly bollocks. If he is arguing that the Tories don’t believe in fairness because one of them had a duck pond, I might refer to the number of transgressions by Labour MPs uncovered by the expenses scandal, I might point out that the only MPs to face criminal prosecutions are from the Labour Party, but his argument is so screamingly inane that there’s almost no point.
The point about responsibility is particularly salient. As somebody lucky enough to have the aforementioned wave of credibility supporting their every sentiment, celebrities have a responsibility not to trot out such bilge. I am happy to hear why Eddie Izzard actually supports the Labour Party, whether it is because he prefers their tax system, or because he dislikes free market capitalism, believes banks needs greater regulation, dislikes the Tories New Schools policy, whatever, I don’t mind, go for it. Even make it funny. But at least make it accurate. The fact that he can’t be bothered undermines his every word.