Celebrities in politics: will leaders think twice?

Des Lynam's endorsement of UKIP is certainly a boon to the party, but in an era of scandal, will party leaders think twice before approving such support?

by Andrew Ian Dodge on 12 May 2013 10:23

TV personality Des Lyman has come out for UKIP, even taking the time to rewrite the song “Send in the Clowns” to celebrate UKIP's recent successes in the local elections.

It was a humorous retort to veteran Tory blowhard Ken Clarke’s anti-UKIP diatribe before this month's elections. The veteran sportscaster got quite a bit of press for the party and for himself with this move. Even the BBC refrained from its normal sneering tone.

"I was delighted to cast my vote for [UKIP leader] Nigel Farage's team in Sussex, where I live," said Lynam. "I feel they have something to offer the country as a whole, and Sussex."

Nigel Farage was gracious upon hearing of Lynam's support. 

Mr Farage said: "I am delighted at Des's support in these elections. And thank him for his rewrite of the lyrics of Send in the Clowns which we are planning to sing at our South East conference.”

And Lynam is not the first celebrity to cast his lot in with UKIP, nor will he probably be the last.

But one wonders if celebrity endorsements are always a good thing for a political party. They can often come with a sting in their tail.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have had “their” celebrities wrapped up in the post-Saville/Yewtree arrests and prosecutions.

Alleged paedophiles have been spotted in photos making appearances at Labour Party functions as recent as last year. Guido posted a particularly embarrassing one for the party, especially after a cack-handed distancing operation from Labour.

“Last week Labour were very quick to claim that Stuart Hall left the Labour Party 10 years ago. He didn’t get very far it seems; Guido has uncovered this photograph of him opening Stalybridge Labour Club in Tameside last summer with Labour MP Jonathan Reynolds and his predecessor Lord Pendry.”

Not that Conservatives can be smug about this problem. Jim Davidson was a known backer of the Conservative Party, showing up at conferences and rallies for decades. Not only that, Davidson wrote and starred in a play that questioned the lack of non-Left comics in Britain. It even managed approving write-up in The Guardian.

“Could a new generation of right-leaning comics create intelligent material that makes an audience laugh without relying on shared prejudices? Step forward, Tory comics – I am genuinely curious to see what you can do, without the varnish of irony."

Last year he found himself caught up in the Operation Yewtree net, albeit on less serious charges than Hall.

While celebrity endorsements have short-term value as far as press coverage is concerned, they come with their own potential pratfalls.

They are potentially poisoned chalices for party leaders who are desperate for more positive coverage for their party. In today’s 24 hours news and social media cycle, a celebrity endorsement can turn from good to bad in an instant.

Obviously that's not to say that parties should stop courting public endorsements. But I think this whole Yewtree saga will certainly make leaders and strategist think twice before rolling out their latest celebrity chums.


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