Don’t count politicians out of pop culture

Engaging with pop culture makes politicians look far less out of touch and, if used right, can be invaluable political capital

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Politicians and wider culture outside the Houses of Parliament rarely make welcome bedfellows. Sometimes, even something as seemingly simple and regular to us everyday folk as eating a bacon sarnie, can be inexplicably botched by our leading political figures. This was demonstrated astutely by Ed Miliband in the runup to the 2015 general election as he managed to look John Hurt in The Elephant Man, while attempting to sample one of our favourite national dishes. But this wasn’t always the way. Cast your an eye back to the lead-up to the 1997 election and you’ll see a time when our politics and our culture were linked inextricably. Noel Gallagher of Oasis delivered a glowing recommendation of Tony Blair at the 1996 Brit Awards. Gallagher would be invited to ten Downing Street upon Blair’s election, with a picture of the two appearing prominently on the front pages of the tabloid media.

Now, I’m not necessarily calling for this kind of thing to return with prominence. Gallagher may well cringe in remembering his flirtation with politics given Blair’s eventual outing as a warmongering American puppet – but it is worth noting that such crossover between politics and popular culture can be extremely beneficial to the political campaigns themselves. Parties have long-sought celebrity endorsements, eager to find figures to appear advocating for them and their policies in their political broadcasts. However, politicians need to change their relationship with popular culture and present themselves at the front line of it.

In the run up to the recent general election, Jeremy Corbyn appeared halfway through a Libertines gig at a stadium in Birkenhead and made a speech to what turned out to be a passionately approving crowd. This was a risk a politician appearing in such an alien venue as onstage at a music concert could easily provoke a barrage of missiles reigning down towards the given party’s head, such is its distance from the political arena. But far from anger, Corbyn received a rapturous welcome of chanting and cheering, clearly impressed by his efforts in putting himself in such a foreign position.

Subsequently, Corbyn surpassed all expectation in the recent election, derailing Theresa May’s majority in the Commons, and seeing the Labour Party reinvigorated with an increased voter share and seat count. It would be foolish to suggest that this was entirely down to something as minute as a single appearance at a single gig, but it may well have shown a key demographic of young, culturally in-tune voters that politicians aren’t necessarily as out-of-touch as they may at first appear.

Meanwhile, Theresa May was skipping gaily through a Sussex wheat field like a 19th century extra from Lark Rise to Candleford directly towards political suicide, proving herself as an entirely out-of-touch, farmer-bothering lizard. Maybe if she’d just said that the worst thing she’d ever done was having a cheeky joint at uni, she wouldn’t be reliant on gay-bashing Unionists to form another government.

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