Only a couple of weeks ago, a refreshingly angry and impassioned Question Time audience in Grimsby took part in the verbal stoning of a panel of political figures, shifting uncomfortably on the stage before them. It was great viewing. I loved it. Finally, people’s juices are flowing.
My favourite moment was when David Dimbleby turned to Margaret Beckett and announced with suppressed glee that she’d “been fingered a bit by the Telegraph” over expenses, which saw the audience erupt into laughter and sporadic applause. Beckett managed to contort her mouth into a gummy smile, but her fixed expression carried a trace of disgust that wouldn’t have looked out of place had Dimbleby just soiled her top lip with a Dirty Sanchez.
Beckett was heckled by the audience for much of the show, which was something even former Liberal Democrat Leader, Ming Campbell, had to endure at times (which always saddens me, as he’s very grandfatherly and looks like he’d share a Werther’s with anyone). The public’s seething anger was clear for all to see. And even though we always knew that politics was awash with unsavoury and slippery characters, I think it was just a little too depressing for us all to find out just how widespread the greed actually was.
Politics was in serious trouble.
Enter, Esther Rantzen. The former That’s’ Life host confirmed on Tuesday that she would stand as an Independent candidate for the Luton South seat if the incumbent MP, Labour’s Margaret Moran, also decides to stand. According to Rantzen, it was her anger at Moran’s £22,500 expenses claim to treat dry rot at a property 100 miles from her constituency that motivated her to stand, but also because she’s “suddenly become fascinated by politics”. (Could she not suddenly have become fascinated by mine clearance or Alaskan crab fishing?)
To my further dismay, it was reported yesterday that former Dollar frontman, David Van Day, was also considering stepping into the political arena. Van Day said he was 85% certain that he would stand in Mid Bedfordshire (under the banner of his own No Expenses Party) against Tory backbencher Nadine “this is a McCarthyite witch hunt” Dorries. (My favourite headline about this disturbing news was the Guardian’s “Dollar-garchy”.)
Politicians and members of the public have expressed concerns recently that the BNP could be a key beneficiary of the MPs expenses scandal, with an incensed electorate registering a protest vote at the forthcoming European elections. What’s scary, though, is that if people are prepared to go to those kinds of extremes to demonstrate their displeasure with the political elite, then what’s to say they won’t vote for someone as arrogant and intensely dislikeable David Van Day?
Van Day has said that, if elected, he won’t claim for expenses or a second home. That’s all well and good. But is saying: “I promise not to do what they all did” a good enough reason to enter politics? His press conference would sound something like this:
Constituent: “What can you offer us, Mr Van Day?
David Van Day: “Honesty. I shall not claim expenses or have a second home.”
Constituent: “That’s a good start. What else?”
David Van Day (sweating profusely): “Errm…er…mirror-mirror mon amour send me what I’m waiting for… pick me up an image so fine, so fine…Come on, you know the words!”
*Constituents then launch a volley of chairs and polystyrene cups filled with scolding hot beverages, while David Van Day is quickly ushered off stage with a coat over his head…still singing.*
There’s nothing genuine about David Van Day. Everything he’s ever done has been an attempt to further his own threadbare career, steal the limelight, or simply generate publicity. This is a man who dumped his girlfriend live on the Wright Stuff, while a punchable smirk crept across his surgically lifted and perma-tanned face. He’s a publicity whore.
His interest in riding the coat tails of the expenses scandal into political office has got everything to do with his insatiable thirst for publicity, but absolutely nothing to do with bringing honesty and integrity to the Mid Bedfordshire seat.
With two former ‘I’m a Celebrity…’ contestants stating their political ambitions, it makes me wonder who’s next? Are we going to see Dean Gaffney elected, as he tries to make his acceptance speech from inside the suffocating bosom of a curvaceous Spearmint Rhino blonde? Are Tommy Cannon and Bobby Ball going to run as a formidable political couple? And where does Biggins fit into the political equation? Are we going to have Widow fucking Twankey goes to Westminster? Where does it end?
When former BBC News correspondent, Martin Bell, ran as an independent candidate in 1997 against the poster boy of Tory sleaze, Neil Hamilton, it was different. Bell had been a serious journalist, suffering shrapnel wounds in 1992 while reporting from Bosnia. He had an OBE, and credibility, and a suit from Mr Roarke’s wardrobe on Fantasy Island. Conversely, Neil Hamilton had the ‘celebrity’ kiss of death backing of Coronation Street’s Bill Roach.
The day when Martin Bell and the Hamiltons went eyeball to eyeball on Knutsford Common lives long in the memory. Every time I see that clip I always expect the scrum of photographers surrounding them to start chanting “fight…fight…FIGHT!” (Bell wouldn’t have stood a chance with Christine Hamilton present.) However, there was nothing about that battle for Tatton which felt like it was politician versus celebrity. Bell was simply a familiar face from the news who’d taken it upon himself to fight the good fight against corruption.
When Bell later suffered defeat in 2001, while running against Tory MP Eric Pickles, he retired from politics, saying: “winning one and losing one is not a bad record for an amateur”. He wasn’t a celebrity in the conventional sense, which made the spectacle of his challenge for Neil Hamilton’s constituency even more watchable.
I know we live in a celebrity-obsessed society, where people are prepared to spend their hard-earned money on magazines to see the highly-magnified sweat patch around a celebrity’s testicles, or so far up their coke-ravaged noses that we can actually see their addled brains weeping gently, but do we need to wave celebrities at absolutely everything? Can we, the people, not just get angry, and do something about that anger, without having a celebrity endorsement rammed down our throats?
There must be so many wonderful characters out there. I want to see ordinary folk putting themselves forward as independent candidates. Every year on the X-Factor there’s always a mother who storms on set to remonstrate with Simon Cowell for rudely rejecting her 18-stone, 16-year-old daughter, with a voice that sounds like someone ironing a cat. Anyone with the balls to argue that said daughter has star quality and not an eating disorder deserves to stalk the political landscape.
We mustn’t let celebrities hijack the MPs expenses scandal, because this is the best opportunity we’ve ever had to get involved and shake things up ourselves.
On a final note, Jeremy Kyle was pontificating in The Sun last Saturday about how we should fix “broken Britain”. I swear to god, if he threatens to run as an independent candidate in the next few days, I’ll enter the political arena myself…with a high-powered rifle.