Nadine, you’re not a celebrity

Why do we want to put stars in our children’s eyes?

Nadine Dorries (MP, Mid-Bedfordshire), asked that very question in a blog, in which she defended her parental duties to protect her daughter against the explicit nature of the celebrity culture world on TV screens and (somewhat bizarrely) the Reading Festival stage. Indeed, Nadine, the celebrity culture world IS setting up our children for a fall, isn’t it?

Many moons ago, Channel 4 launched the British version of ‘Big Brother’. In its earliest years, ‘Big Brother’ did very little to accelerate the celebrity of those people who took part. Some made low-level impact in television presenting jobs and music careers. Suddenly, and without much warning, related reality television programmes appeared on all national channels which thrust unknowns into the spotlight – this wasn’t just a big cheque to a quiz show winner, this was a recording contract, this was glossy magazine photo opps, this was Hollywood treatment to a British postcode and the bright lights of fame and fortune shone directly into the hearts of people who wanted instant success for little work. And who wouldn’t want to have a celebrity career at a fingerclick?

On the flipside of all this, celebrities whose careers had faded through the years found themselves using the same processes to win back a little of the bright lights they thought were lost. Celebrity versions of Big Brother, Fame Academy and others made it acceptable to strip celebrities of most of their charm as a ‘payback’ for their desperation to return into the centre of people’s attention. They danced, sang and wandered around naked for the benefit of nobody but their own attempts to make it again in the changed celebrity world. This new reality, fed by and made for reality television, made celebrities as hungry for fame as the ordinary people who wanted more than a quiz show first prize.

The extreme conclusion of this is ITV’s “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here”, the natural consequence for the urgency with which faded celebrities wanted coverage in the tabloids. ITV couldn’t have known  just how far they could push famous people to do whatever they asked. Insects were eaten, dung was swam through, flesh was revealed and dignities were prostituted. As long as office workers could guffaw on Monday morning about a has-been crunching on spiders, then the production team had done their job.

Viewing figures for “I’m a Celebrity…” topped 16 million people. That’s one of the highest viewing figures on British television, far over-shadowing the viewing numbers for most soaps. Up with other ITV stables such as “The X-Factor” and its predecessor “Pop Idol”, it’s a huge success story for advertisers, producers and celebrities alike.

Nadine Dorries is not a celebrity by many definitions of the term. She’s a member of parliament, representing the constituency of Mid Bedfordshire. At the 2010 election, just shy of 29,000 people voted for her to represent them, over 50% of those who voted. Those 29,000 people probably knew before hand that Nadine was a controversial and divisive figure. Her provocative views on abortion law reform has set her apart from many Conservative MPs. Perhaps most infamously, she attempted to take through the Commons an “abstinence Bill”, an old-fashioned, out-dated “won’t somebody think of the children” legislation.

She justifies taking a televised holiday in Australia to eat  kangeroo anus because politicians are considered out of touch, and that a potential audience of 16 million people want to be taught by her. She believes ITV would allow her to talk about abortion reform law. She could not be more wrong, and goodness knows she has been wrong plenty of times in her career. She’s misunderstood the point of a prime-time reality show if she thinks long speeches about abortion law would be shown amongst shots of models and pop stars camped around a bonfire. She’s misunderstood the point of prime-time reality programmes entirely if she thinks politicians can appear without production choices making them look embarrassing.

This isn’t to say that we should keep MPs on BBC Parliament and pop stars on ITV1. There is a need to make politics and politicians relevant to people today, especially young people. Nadine Dorries can speak about getting her fingernails dirty all she likes; the role of an MP is not to appear on a phone-in reality show where producers have all the power. With Parliament currently sitting, laws are being debated and voted on, and alongside those MPs from Sinn Féin who refuse to take their seats, Nadine Dorries is deliberately absent. That’s not a responsible act from an MP however you measure it.

I’m not against MPs getting out into the real world, but “I’m a Celebrity…” is not reality. Getting an MP to be a bin man for a week or sit in A&E is just as ‘finger nail dirtying’ as anything Nadine pretends will happen whilst being filmed eating a cockroach with a Page 3 model, and it’s more likely to produce something approaching respect with voters.

I doubt watching Nadine eating an arse rather than talking out of one will bring her into a new light. It won’t win her respect as an MP who is taking a holiday on full pay because she feels that nobody is listening to her on Question Time. Already semi-detached amongst her colleagues, the natural conclusion from her jaunt is a permanent exclusion from the Conservative Party. If she wanted to do the decent thing, her next job will be in the Chiltern Hundreds.

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Great Bradford West Bake-Off

Don’t believe the orchestrated Twitter hype; Labour is going to win today’s Bradford West by-election, and comfortably so. What ‘buzz’ surrounds a shock victory is part double-bluff and mind-games, and part the result of the decreasing interest in covering parliamentary by-elections. Anything for an ‘angle’, even if that comes just the day before polling day and comes across as a hurriedly scribbled puff-piece.

Every democracy has its ‘cuckoo cabal’, from which one curiosity or general odd-ball is plucked every month for a run of rent-a-quotes and media appearances before being plonked back into the pen. Australia has Pauline Hanson, the United States has…..the Republican Party, I guess…..and the United Kingdom can choose from an assortment of men (Nigel Farage, Richard Littlejohn) and a handful of women (notably Nadine Dorries).  This month’s choice of notable numpty is George Galloway, scourge of the pro-Iraq war lobby, Americans (mostly Republicans, it would seem) and the Labour Party. The man who would be remembered solely as one of the greatest orators in Britain were it not for *that* reality TV moment (“would you like me to be a cat?) has been stepping-stone his way back to full credibility having chosen to fight the Poplar and Limehouse constituency two years ago at the general election. He lost, and has been trying to get back to electoral victory since.

Bradford West is not going to be a site of that victory. It’s not just a matter of statistics – it would take an unprecedented standing start win. This campaign has been Galloway acting as the Grand Statesman, whose past pronouncements have been at least within the park of accuracy. It has not been “George comes for your votes” so much as “An anti-Labour roadshow comes to Bradford”. Whilst I would always prefer the defeat of Labour candidates, a Galloway victory would be a success for him, not the constituency. I say that in my humble and personal opinion – Galloway is known to be litigious – only the other day, in fact.

Labour candidate Imran Hussain is in the current mould of that party’s choices – nice, dull, unlikely to rock boats, known in the constituency but that’s about all. Hussain will melt into the backbenches, along side the current roll call of Labour by-election winners during this parliament. How many household names can you recognise – Jon Ashworth, Seema Malhotra, Debbie Abrahams?

Labour need to win Bradford West, and they will. They are still in a dire state – led by the wrong brother, struggling to provide a coherent political message, embarrassingly shrill on the economy. The current ‘buzz’ around Galloway is nothing more than Labour activists doing what they’re told through group emails and on-high instructions; by this time tomorrow, we’ll have to wade through the similarly depressing gloop of spin about ‘Ed Miliband winning against the odds!”. 

Together in Olympiad Dreams

And so, fittingly, David Beckham’s career ended with a throwaway line at the end of a television interview. Fabio Capello, standing awkwardly in the stripped down ITV set of littered lighting rigs and television sets, shrugged his shoulders without perhaps understanding how often that pose would reverberate across the world. “A little too old, I think,” he sighed, and then back to the studio. What do you say, as Johnny Logan would have put it, when words are not enough?

It had all the atmosphere of a Big Brother “surprise eviction”, a suitable end to a man whose football career ran parallel with the explosion in football’s popularity revival; the early dawn of the Premiership, Euro1996 – all came at Beckham’s time, and he followed the celebrity route of ‘Cool Britannia’ for all that it was worth and more.

For Beckham’s greatest hits DVD will inevitably feature images far removed from his days as floppy-haired posterboy for Manchester United; from the his-and-hers thrones on which he and Victoria were married to the endless underwear commercials.

The loss of “late” Beckham’s dead-ball specialities to England may be a gain picked up by another national side, one whose very existence is probably as contentious as some of Golden Balls’ fashion choices. For the man whose very career veered off tangent as precisely as a curled freekick (albeit not perhaps with as much cheer) could well have a role as coach of Great Britain’s Olympic football team.

Due to inane and archaic rules too dull even for me to wander into, Great Britain can only take part in the Olympic football tournament as a team under that name and the Union Flag, although protests from Scotland and Wales leaves the side currently managerless and open to players only from England and Northern Ireland. A side led by Beckham would ensure the press – for whom Olympic football is one of the marginal sports nobody covers, like shooting and swimming and anything outside the athletics track – would give coverage to a side for which Beckham would be too old to captain. And what better send off than the overblown, over-priced, other worldly cuckoo-banana land of the Olympic Games?

History will be kind to Becks – every retrospective will focus on the halfway line goal against Wimbledon and the important Greece goal with more reverence than the Argentina sending off or Hollywood glamour chasing – but ultimately he will be remembered as one of many England youngsters for whom Fate decided would be a flawed talent. Football is littered with them, some never return from desperate introspection and others earn millions as the starman standby, making cameo appearances for the good of sponsors and sports editors. Olympic glory, perhaps the most suitable of all, awaits the man whose football career began and ended with a camera lens trained straight down the eyes…