With a celebrity TV show host having taken up residence in the White House, it is perhaps fitting that celebrities now pontificate on politics more than ever before. Thanks largely to Twitter and other forms of social media, the political ramblings of celebs can reach an audience of millions within minutes. Unfortunately, many use their influence not to inform but to provoke. In short: they’re rabble-rousers.
The latest is Sir Patrick Stewart who has apologised on behalf of the British people for having the temerity to vote to leave the European Union. Whether it’s Bob Geldof sticking two fingers up at Leave-supporting fishermen, Charlotte Church mouthing off about Brexit on Twitter, or Meryl Streep’s anti-Trump speech at the Golden Globes, celebrities are increasingly using their status to spread their political beliefs.
Freedom of expression is of course a fundamental freedom and celebrities have just as much of a right to express themselves as anybody else, but their views tend to be hideously homogenous and unoriginal. So it is extremely difficult to find a politically active celebrity who isn’t both pro-Remain and anti-Trump. Until Corbyn came along and sunk Labour lower than any of us thought possible, British luvvies almost exclusively supported Labour too.
Celebrities have an enormous amount of influence. For example, the outspoken singer and Corbyn-supporter Lily Allen has almost six million followers on Twitter. Most MPs would be lucky to hit 60,000 followers. Even the official account of the Prime Minister has less followers than Allen.
If used effectively, social media can be a powerful tool of engagement. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case. Perhaps the worst example of this is the “comedian” Russell Brand, who urged his millions of followers not to vote in elections and shun the democratic institutions that entire generations of men and women once gave their lives to protect. Brand then did a u-turn and backed Ed Miliband’s Labour anyway. Not that it made much difference.
As politicians, we recognise (most of the time at least) that what we say can have wider ramifications elsewhere. Generally, we try to be as informed as possible and avoid making statements for the sole purpose of rousing anger. After all, our jobs hinge on serving our constituents, not on chasing Twitter followers or TV ratings.
It seems as if a number of celebrities never think before they speak about politics or current affairs. Instead of making a constructive contribution to the debate, their input usually consists of mindless rage or empty platitudes. Of course, the more they mouth off, the less impact their public interventions have.
The sad irony is that for the most part, celebrity opponents of Brexit and Trump actually do more harm than good for their causes. Trump may have made some positive noises about a trade deal with the UK, but there are also some deeply concerning aspects to his administration. He too is guilty of knee jerk anger on Twitter by referring to the Federal Judge in Washington state who overturned his immigration ban as “this so-called judge”. What a contrast to Prime Minister May who went out of her way not to criticise British Supreme Court judges who ruled against our Attorney General on the Article 50 case.
Yet when a musician like Madonna jokes about blowing up the White House, it only serves to crowd out the real and substantive criticisms of Trump. When he steps out of line, Trump needs to be challenged with facts and reason, not incoherent wailing or malicious threats.
In an age where politicians must be incredibly careful about what they say and how they say it, famous celebrities should take similar care when they preach to us on political issues of which they might only have a limited understanding.
Having said all this, celebrities are entitled to the same freedoms as the rest of us. If the actress Emma Thompson wants to slag off the UK as a “tiny cake-filled misery-laden island” then she should be free to do so. It’s now up to all of us to exercise more critical thinking and make up our own minds instead of relying on the luvvy class to think for us.
Michael Fabricant is the Conservative MP for Lichfield and a former party vice-chairman