I found out today that Jo Cameron – a contestant in the last series of The Apprentice – is standing for the Lib Dems in the local elections in Walsall.
She may not exactly be an A-list celebrity and most people won’t have heard of her, but I was quite excited by the news. That’s partly because I am a big fan of The Apprentice and so feel quite starstruck by the idea that she is a Lib Dem, but also because it is rare for the Lib Dems to get someone who is well known and current being prepared to stand up and being counted as a Lib Dem supporter. It is even rarer for them to be standing for the party in an election.
Although Jo Cameron’s appearance on The Apprentice may not exactly have shown her in the best light, I do think it is an asset to the party to have people with a national profile nailing their colours to the mast. Particularly someone like Jo Cameron who, whilst not successful on The Apprentice, is clearly a successful businesswoman otherwise. Most people in her situation would probably rather not be open about their politics for fear of it damaging their non-political career.
When Simon Hughes stood for party president he made some play about how he believed he could attract well-known people to support the party. This doesn’t seem to have happened, but if we have people who are well-known who are party supporters we really should be grasping these people with both hands. These are people who have a broader appeal and who bring skills to the party that other people don’t have. Plus, if you are attracting the right people it does say something about where your party is going and the sorts of people who will be associated with it.
Politicians always like to be associated with well-known people as it adds a bit of glamour and cool to politics. But parties all too often end up turning against these people if they are then seen to be trying to get involved in the real politics such as standing for election. Political parties only want them to be glamorous assistants rather than trying to be involved in the substance of politics.
The best recent example is the backlash in the Conservatives when Adam Rickitt went on to the party’s A-List. The criticisms seemed to be that he hadn’t ever done a proper job, (being a soap actor clearly disqualifies you, whereas if you have an Oscar like Glenda Jackson then that is OK), he hadn’t spent 50 years delivering leaflets for the party, (despite the fact that years of commitment to a party doesn’t necessarily make your sensible or sane) and that he was good looking (perhaps because it disproved the quote that “politics is showbusiness for ugly people).
Following on from the latter point, there does however appear to be a natural assumption in politics that if you are good looking then you are clearly up to no good, aren’t really that committed and you couldn’t possibly be bright, articulate or have any substance. Although this is nowhere near exclusive to politics – you only need to look at the dumb blonde stereotype to see that – it is odd that in an occupation where creating the right image is as important as having some substance, it is still an issue.
Perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised, as we have seen it in the Lib Dems with the criticism that was meted out to ‘The Darbyshires’. Robin & Leah Darbyshire both worked for the Liberal Democrats in Winchester and Newbury respectively, but they also had a much criticised and parodied blog. Part of the problem was of their own making as their arrogant confidence in their own abilities and good looks was very clear on their blog. But the truth is that they ARE better looking than most Lib Dems, and they were also pretty competent campaigners and were an asset to the party. Their belief that they were treated badly because of their looks was probably true to a large extent.
To me, having celebrities wanting to be associated with a party is a great plus. But what we need to do is make sure we then encourage them to be used for all their abilities and not just as a pretty face devoid of political opinions.
COLIN ROSS: Former Conservative Councillor joins the Liberal Democrats (includes the news about Jo Cameron)