Our politicians should be dull, worthy and never seen wearing a leopard print bra

Nelson TorsoWriting in today’s Daily Mail, Dominic Sandbrook rages against the cult of celebrity and declares that “the lines between politics and show business have become dangerously blurred.” Is he right?

Today is Trafalgar Day, a celebration of the victory of our nation’s greatest celebrities, Horatio Nelson. Many may be surprised to hear Nelson described as a celebrity rather than a hero, but a celebrity he was, and he so knew it.

When, on 14 September 1805, Nelson arrived at Portsmouth to board the Victory, he could not make his way to the ship due to the pressure of crowds who wanted to cheer off their national hero. Nelson did not misjudge his own fame. He was loved by the nation and he loved their adulation. He told Thomas Hardy as he left English soil for the last time:

I had their huzzas before, I have their hearts now.

When news of the victory at Trafalgar and Nelson’s death reached England, the nation did not know whether to celebrate or cry. Diarist Maria Skinner was overcome:

Lord Nelson no more! I could not help being greatly affected by the whole account, and retired to my own room to vent my feelings.

Nelson’s corpse was brought back to England, he was honoured with a state funeral and his body lies in St Paul’s crypt, where he receives flowers on his birthday and the anniversary of his death.

This brings us back to Dominic Sandbrook, who writes:

We live in an age when politics grovels before the cult of celebrity.

It somehow offends Sandbrook that some of our MPs once appeared on TV. Still, it proves a great excuse for the Mail to show an old photo of Tory front bencher Esther McVey in a “risqué” pose, and to mention she once wore a leopard print bra and a fake fur blanket. Sandbrook also lashes out at Labour’s shadow minister for women, Gloria de Piero:

Who has spent the past few days playing down topless pictures taken when she was a teenager.

Not that Sandbrook is sexist. He also takes a disdainful, if brief, swipe at shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt, who is described as a “former TV presenter.” Horrors! Did Tristram wear a leopard print bra too? Or was his crime to talk rather academically about history?

Personally, I like my politicians to be human, adventurous and to have had a life before they step into the House of Commons. If that involves TV, so be it. I am less certain that they should step out of the unreality of the Commons into the fantasy world of I’m a Celebrity, Nadine Morris style. But didn’t we all love Vince on Strictly? And, after all, the late Clement Freud once advertised dog food and appeared on Just a Minute.

Alas, the Daily Mail, a newspaper that thrives on celebrity tittle tattle, does not approve of politicians being entertaining. Its message is clear. Our politicians should all be crafted in the dullest possible moulds. They should be worthy and grey. They must have spent every moment of their teenage years reading War and Peace. And they definitely must never have been spotted wearing a leopard print bra.

As Nelson found more than two hundred years ago, great leaders are often celebrities. That’s true of politicians too. Give me a politician with a human touch any day.

* Andy Boddington is a Lib Dem councillor in Shropshire. He blogs at andybodders.co.uk.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Don’t you mean Nadine Dorries?

  • Andy Boddington 21st Oct '13 - 4:42pm

    @Lucos Amos – You are quite correct!

  • Martin Pierce 22nd Oct '13 - 8:30am

    It’s also a bit rich coming from a TV celeb historian whose TV history of the 70s included him recreating the conveyor belt on the Generation Game.

  • No doubt many potentially good candidates of all parties are put off by the possibility that, as soon as they get into office, they are prey for the Daily Mail sidebar of shame, or worse.

  • Simon Banks 22nd Oct '13 - 7:34pm

    I regret that I am now going to have nightmares of Alistair Carmichael wearing a leopard print bra.

  • Richard Dean 24th Oct '13 - 5:33am

    Politicians in democracies are certainly in show business, surely? As are royals.

    Much of a politician’s work involves communicating to large, though often scattered, audiences who need to be persuaded to give their approval. Politicians are also significant actors in the psychodramas of our lives, and the dramas they perform help us define what our nation is.

    So, it seems logical to deduce that parties who are serious about power need a public relations strategy, expertise, and training to achieve relevant objectives . How do LibDems fare on this?

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