Sunday, November 18, 2007

Celebrity Politics - or will Lord Forsythe please not say 'nice to see you' to the North Koreans

It is perhaps true that politicians need to be able to translate complex ideas and policies to allow them to be understood by the masses. Currently this role is largely fulfilled by journalists who mediate ideas in a way that appeals to their audiences; despite the range if communication experts who colonise politics and the number of MPs with public relations backgrounds there still seems to be a communication gap. Gordon Brown had an alternative way of getting the public to engage with politics, give a high profile role to someone they already liked and listened to; not a great expert but GMTV host and long-time foil for Eamon Hughes jokes Fiona Phillips.

It is claimed by the News of the World that a Downing Street aide argued that "People say she is just a ditzy blonde, but Fiona Phillips manages to communicate complex issues which are of massive public importance to millions of people every morning." This was the justification for offering her a Baronetcy and the public health brief currently head by Dawn Primarolo within Brown's 'government of all talents'. Phillips is a long-standing supporter of Labour, conducted some highly cringe-worthy interviews with the Blairs and has an interest in politics and is quoted as saying "I'd like to change people's perception of politics... I'd love to do a big PR bit for the Government" but did not want to take the £400,000 per annum pay cut. Hence we are to be spared Baroness Phillips of obesity, binge drinking and safe sex.

But is Gordon out of line with the idea? Politicians are the least trusted profession while it is true that Fiona Phillips has a clear connection with her audience. While her expertise can be questioned, so can that of many cabinet ministers, and her ditzy persona may be her public face as opposed to her real personality. There is the perception of credibility issue, but is it the case that her role as a journalist and her perceived authenticity may well make her seem as on the side of the public as opposed to the negative perception of the politician out for themselves? Gordon Brown has hit on an important truism, that politicians fail to get the public engaged in their ideas; celebrities have that ability, but should they play an active role in politics is a big question. Could Fiona Phillips be Britain's Arnie? Do we need one?


Heather Yaxley said...

Darren, This is hilarious. The woman has as much talent at interviewing as she does at ballroom dancing. Didn't she mainly get her job as her husband is a GMTV producer? And if I remember correctly there was a fuss a while ago because she was charging charities to support their causes. Maybe those are all great credentials for post in government?

Is she really popular or just on a popular programme?

Darren G. Lilleker said...

Not sure about whether her husband got her the job but there have been a range of comments about the quality of her interviewing and yes the charity thing was all over the media some time ago. It does make you wonder whether, as public health minister, she would be seeking payment from pressure groups to support initiatives, or maybe even taking payment from tobacco companies; that would be one way of recouping the £400,000 wage loss perhaps.
What is most worrying in some way that she of all people was considered a credible potential minister. Spokesperson for campaigns perhaps, maybe she is able to reach a certain audience and is seen as authentic and in-touch. Yes we know there is a credibility gap for politicians but really! Perhaps we need suggestions for a future celebrity front bench - there's a challenge for the students!!!