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British Politics: Style Over Substance?

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On Wednesday 26 September David Cameron became the first British Prime Minister to appear on a chat show in the United States. Chatting and joking with David Letterman, Cameron spoke of British ambitions and the crisis in Syria.

So far not groundbreaking news, but following the infamous publicity stunts of Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, in the weeks of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the current culture of paying more attention to Theresa May's leopard print shoes or Samantha Cameron's new dress, this recent publicity move from Cameron raises questions about the way politics is presented and enacted within Britain today.

Across the pond the rise of John F Kennedy famously changed the way the game of politics was played out in America. His presidential campaign marked a step away from the traditional focus on matters of pure policy towards a focus on personality, publicity stunts, fashion and then - and only then - on political issues.

This year's Presidential campaign is no different. Barack Obama is a constant on American chat shows and make no mistake that, whilst it was entertaining and thoroughly enjoyable, Obama's rendition of Al Green's Let's Stay Together during his speech in New York a couple of months ago was most probably thought up by his clever PR team to reinforce his image of a cool and approachable president.

Is Britain going the same way? The era of 'New Labour' in the early nineties marked a transition phase. Whilst previous Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Mayor had maintained a sense of tradition within politics, even if the policies themselves often caused controversy, Tony Blair and the Labour party courted aspects of pop culture ("Cool Britannia") being photographed with popular TV actresses and musicians.

Fast forward to 2012 and Boris Johnson is being heralded as the next Conservative Prime Minister after becoming stuck in a zipwire and then being filmed dancing to the Spice Girls at the Olympic Closing Ceremony. For what reason? Because he makes people laugh, but should he be judged as a politician purely by these antics? Probably not.

Whilst political interest in Britain is declining and the turnout for general elections has been at its lowest for the past three political elections, interest in fashion and culture is increasing. As a result, British politics seems to be increasingly dumbed down to what its leading players are wearing or who they can be seen with.

Looking at country stereotypes Britain has always been presented as the stuffy older brother to America's fast paced, loud-mouthed youth. In Hollywood films, the British are often found wearing tweed, drinking tea and are often presented as cold hearted and traditional.

In most areas of life, we know that Britain is a far cry from these stereotypes: yes, granted, we drink tea, but we do have Cool Britannia, Kate Moss and the success of the 2012 Olympic Games to show that Britain can be more a contemporary to America. Despite this, though, politics and politicians have always maintained a distance from these more frivolous social aspects of Britain and this has, arguably, been to the benefit of society.

When a political leader spends more time worrying about who he should associate himself rather than the policies he should be enacting, it is ultimately the people that lose out. Look at today's dissatisfaction with political parties. Yes Samantha Cameron can dress to impress but satisfaction with the way the government works is at a gruesome low.

Politicians have always linked themselves with popular people for support but the problem today is that this is all politicians seem to focus on. Is Britain following American politics in its focus on personality and style over substantial policy change? Let's face it, in today's current climate we need politicians who know what they are talking about and although leopard print does suit Theresa, I'd far rather talk about her actions than her shoes.