Americans are no strangers to the admixture of Hollywood stars and politics; after all, we’ve elected said stars to roles of senator, governor and president.
But the Brits have recently been giving us a run for our money on the subject of politics and celebrity. In the weeks leading up to Thursday’s national election (when they will head to the polls to pick a new, or possibly new-old, government), entertainers have been weighing in with regularity.
As the face-off between Ed Miliband’s Laborites and David Cameron’s Tories has grown more intense, celebs have urged citizens to vote for this party or vote for that party or not vote at all. They've marched in rallies and they've interviewed politicians. It’s almost surprising there hasn’t been a Clint Eastwood-at-the-convention moment. There are 650 open seats in Parliament, and, well, that's a lot of empty chairs.
Perhaps the most colorful example has been that of Russell Brand. The (former?) movie star, comic and late-night host turned the celebrity-activist narrative on its head by urging people not to vote, saying it would make no difference. He then turned that on its head and said he was voting and would be was supporting Miliband. Then Miliband went to Brand’s house and sat for an interview with him.
Brand also said on his website he would be starting a movement of sorts, one of a certain ... general character.
“The reason I didn’t suggest it sooner is because, twerp that I am, I have hope. I really do believe that real, radical change is possible, that the tyranny of giant, transnational corporations can be ended, that ecological meltdown in pursuit of imaginary money can be arrested and reversed, that an ideology that aspires to more than materialism, individualism and profit can be realized and practiced.”
He also wrote, “Do we need an international confederation of new political alliances that are committed to real change, real democracy, a revolutionary alternative to capitalism? That can challenge the IMF, WTO, WBO and all the other global acronyms so portentous and phony they may as well be the wrestling federations they sound like? Of course we do, my schedule’s pretty clear. I’ll join in. Will you?”
Brand wasn’t the only well-known name getting mixed up in this election cycle. So was a reality star named Katie Hopkins. (If you’re not up on your British “Apprentice” stars, or aware that Britain had an “Apprentice,” she was on it.) Hopkins has very, er, definite views on immigration, and she created a further stir when she said she would leave the country if Labor came to power. This was seized on by Labor activists as an incentive to vote for their party.
Hopkins also took a selfie with Cameron that she’s been displaying proudly. His camp hasn’t been showing it around as much.
Up in Scotland, where I spent a few days this week reporting on the surprising surge in Scottish nationalism, the situation has been no different.
Comedian Eddie Izzard, who has some political ambitions of his own, turned up with the Scottish Labor leader Jim Murphy in Glasgow and Edinburgh. At the former, some nationalist hecklers went after the pair, causing Murphy and Izzard to cut the appearance short. He’d have had a better reception showing “Believe: The Eddie Izzard Story.”
On a similar note, author J.K. Rowling, who has been outspokenly pro-union, has been vocal on Twitter, striking back at those who strike at her and generally offering her preference for Labor over the Scottish National Party.
Not was it just more bookish sorts who were jumping in. As you probably know, Martin Freeman has just signed up for "Captain America." But shortly before doing that, he joined Team Miliband. The actor made a video for the candidate a little while back. It had some nice sentiments, talking about the underprivileged and such, but there are far too many captionable "Hobbit" images out there, and far too many Twitter users with time on their hands, for it to have turned out well.
Queen guitarist Brian May has entered the picture too — he’s started a nonpartisan group dedicated to finding “decent” candidates. This cycle he is backing Labor after previously supporting the Conservatives. If the center-left wins, Miliband can count on a good rendition of “We Are the Champions," at least.
Of course, it’s hard to make too much sport of all this given that our own American style of movie-star punditocracy is just around the corner. Which makes one wonder how some of these debates could play out Stateside. A Twitter war between Channing Tatum and Chris Evans over Social Security reform? Miley Cyrus and Demi Lovato in a town hall about Middle East containment policies?
But amid all the cynicism and belly-aching about a corroded system, give the British election celebs credit for pulling off at least one feat few ever thought possible: making Donald Trump seem not so bad.