Blurring of boundaries between politics and showbiz serves none of us well
KEIR Hardie, the founder of the Labour Party, once wrote that ‘socialism proposes to dethrone the brute-god Mammon’.
One wonders what he would have made of Kezia Dugdale, former Scottish Labour leader, and her bid to re-cast herself as a reality TV star.
She is donating her salary for the duration of her appearance on ITV’s ‘I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!’ to charity.
But she will keep part of the hefty fee she is expected to earn – ‘less than six figures’, we are told. So much for Mammon, who remains firmly on his jungle throne…
Richard Leonard, Miss Dugdale’s newly elected successor, has revealed she did not get permission from the party for the jaunt to Australia.
It seems she was less than forthcoming about the reasons for her Antipodean trip when she spoke with Mr Leonard and Anas Sarwar, his leadership rival, merely telling them she was travelling abroad for charity work.
Well, it can be tough to get by on a salary of just £61,778, and as Miss Dugdale is a list MSP she doesn’t have any constituents, as such; her colleagues can take up the strain while she’s away.
Of course, she can also educate the public by chatting about politics in the jungle – after all, it’s a show that is well-known for high-minded political discussion, amid lingering shots of shapelier contestants showering in a waterfall (what will strident feminist Miss Dugdale make of those?)
Producers are sure to include as much footage as possible of the former Labour supremo defending plans for a smacking ban, as she did in a rather cack-handed way in a recent edition of Question Time.
‘We are not banning smacking – your kitchen is not going to be raided by police because you pulled your kid away from a hot pan and tapped them on the bum,’ she said, despite the fact that the Greens’ Bill, backed by the SNP, does indeed propose a ban on smacking.
Her choice of words – ‘we’ – was also instructive: plans for the ban have been instigated by Green MSP John Finnie, and the SNP has said it won’t oppose them.
Perhaps Miss Dugdale is pondering a switch to her partner SNP MSP Jenny Gilruth’s party, when she emerges from the jungle. Loyally, Miss Gilruth has come to Miss Dugdale’s defence, tweeting: ‘I see Scottish Labour have developed their own unique take on the final day of #AntiBullyingWeek. Huge props, comrades! #TeamKez.’
On the SNP benches, Miss Dugdale may find her intellectual match – Miss Gilruth once spoke passionately in favour of the SNP’s chaotic Named Person scheme, insisting it wouldn’t create extra work for teachers.
Last month the EIS teaching union warned it had ‘growing concern’ about the ‘viability’ of the state guardian initiative.
With such a fumbling grasp of the basics of these fundamental policies, the duo of Miss Dugdale and Miss Gilruth may well prove unstoppable.
Nicola Sturgeon also showed her support for Miss Dugdale by tweeting ‘#TeamKez’ after tuning into the show for the first time on Sunday, and overall the SNP’s reaction has been markedly warmer than the reception from her own party.
Corbynite Neil Findlay has said – quite rightly – that Miss Dugdale’s decision to take part in the programme is ‘utterly ludicrous’ and that it ‘demeans politics when people get involved in that’.
It hasn’t occurred to some of Miss Dugdale’s supporters that the SNP’s backing may not be all it seems – as Napoleon said, ‘never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake’.
Miss Dugdale’s most memorable contribution to the Labour movement was sending the party into third place behind the Tories at the last Holyrood election, a feat hitherto seen as verging on the impossible.
It must have been simply bad timing that meant news of Miss Dugdale’s jungle break overshadowed the announcement of Mr Leonard’s triumph in the gruelling contest to replace her.
Mr Leonard himself appears to be deeply uncomfortable with her decision to head Down Under – though the intervention of his master Jeremy Corbyn, who has backed Miss Dugdale, appears to have saved her from suspension.
It may be that Miss Dugdale has taken her inspiration from Alex Salmond, who also turned to showbiz after he was ousted at the snap election in June – first with a Fringe production and now as the host of his own chat show on Kremlin-backed RT, formerly Russia Today.
But there are some cautionary tales for Miss Dugdale from the history of reality TV: remember George Galloway’s turn on Celebrity Big Brother while he was an MP?
The spectacle of the Honourable Member for Bethnal Green and Bow, pretending to be a cat licking cream from the hand of actress Rula Lenska – ‘Would you like me to be the cat?’ – dealt a blow to his credibility from which he has arguably never recovered.
He also sported a red leotard on the show, and as a result of his participation missed a series of votes in the Commons.
Former Scottish Socialist MSP Tommy Sheridan took part in the same show after being charged with perjury.
But is this the example Miss Dugdale really wants to follow – joining the ranks of the washed-up and the disgraced on trashy TV?
In 2012, Tory MP Nadine Dorries lasted just 12 days in the jungle but faced similar accusations she had abandoned her voters.
She was also the subject of parliamentary scrutiny for months afterwards, and was forced to apologise for failing to declare the fee she earned for appearing.
It is true that in Donald Trump we have a US President who owes his position, at least in part, to his role hosting (not taking part in) The Apprentice, another reality TV show; the boundaries between showbiz and politics are blurring.
Voters are also long accustomed to parliamentarians chasing the limelight – it’s more fun than the lower-profile business of dealing with the conveyor belt of constituents’ gripes.
But they know that public service shouldn’t be about the pursuit of fame, or cash, even if many of us have given up hope that the rotten political system is capable of redemption after the expenses and sex scandals of recent years.
Is it any wonder that one of our elected representatives, emerging from this unedifying milieu, should display such blatant contempt for the electorate?
Quite what Miss Dugdale makes of the row is anyone’s guess – she’s under contract to ITV and can’t comment.
Hardie, in all likelihood, would have regarded her escape from the bitter cold of the Scottish winter to embrace the ‘brute-god Mammon’ not only as politically dim-witted, but also as morally wrong.