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Joey Essex and the Culture of Political Snobbery

12/04/2015 01:26 BST | Updated 10/06/2015 10:59 BST

There is an underlying snobbery running through our democracy. The political class - roughly defined as those that think they know better - seem to believe that there is a right way, and a wrong way, to access politics. Watching the televised debates is, of course, the right way. Attending a party conference is another. Listening to the revolutionary ramblings of a dishevelled ex-drug addict, however, is the wrong way. And don't you dare watch the interviews of a well-meaning yet credulous Essex boy. That, apparently, is not what politics is about.

We all want potential voters to engage in politics. We constantly beguile the politically apathetic - and indeed antipathetic - with stories about the struggles of our ancestors. We perpetually praise the inviolable nature of democracy. Yet the political class, as crudely exemplified in a recent Telegraph article about the 'idiot' Joey Essex, seem to denounce those who access politics through an avenue that doesn't quite fit their high standards. There is no wrong way to learn about politics. The important point is that voters are learning.

My first conscious experience with political debate was, assumedly, the wrong way to learn about politics. It was a simple televised interview between a Staines-based rudeboy and an ageing, pipe-smoking socialist. On this memorable episode of Da Ali G Show, Tony Benn answered Ali G's ridiculous questions with remarkable sincerity. Ali G began by asking: 'Is it called the welfare state because it is well fair?' Benn answered by turning our attention to the issues of unemployment, national insurance and democracy. Every time Ali G interrupted with another ludicrous question, Benn put forward heartfelt arguments regarding social justice.

My friends and I, discussing the show the next day, weren't raving about the merits of socialism. We didn't hoist a red flag or search the library for a copy of Das Kapital. We did, however, have a brief discussion about unemployment benefits. If our teachers were eavesdropping, it must have been a wonderfully absurd sight: a bunch of horny, cantankerous, apolitical teenagers debating the merits of the welfare state because of a member of the West Side Staines Massif.

A decade or so later, after Russell Brand's famous Paxman interview went viral, a new generation of tech-savvy youngsters inundated social media with arguments about democracy. Overnight, it seems, previously politically apathetic voters were engaging in political discussion and debating important issues. This, according to the basic principles of furthering democracy, should have been celebrated. The snobbish, however, argued that Brand simply wasn't political material. Listening to Brand, apparently, was again the wrong way to engage in politics.

In the last week, political snobbery has predictably re-emerged. The aforementioned Telegraph article about Joey Essex's upcoming interviews lamented the 'dumbing down' of British politics. If we are to agree with the basic ideals of furthering democratic debate, however, Essex seems like the ideal candidate to interview potential leaders. He has commendably demonstrated an earnest interest in politics and is attempting to educate himself on the issues. His representation can't be criticised, as he isn't affiliated with any party. He might not be the brightest, but his enthusiasm and his popularity is sure to engage plenty of previously apolitical voters.

Isn't this precisely what the snobbish claim to want? They insist that they want edified voters. They want the electorate to engage with the issues and to have an insight when they finally reach the polling booth. And yet, it seems, if those bringing political issues to the masses don't have Oxbridge qualifications, decent suits, and perhaps a clean shave, then all the ensuing political discussion is somehow irrelevant. There is no wrong way to access politics, and yet the snobbery of the political class is a sure way of putting people off.