THE BLOG
13/05/2014 10:36 BST | Updated 13/07/2014 06:59 BST

Personality Politics is a Disaster for Democracy

I'm as far divorced from the views of Peter Hitchens as one can possibly get. I think he's wrong about God; wrong about religion; wrong about the war in Iraq and on the wrong side of the political spectrum.

Imagine my unease then, when I found myself nodding grumpily in true Mail on Sunday fashion to his brilliant analysis of personality politics on the BBC's Daily Politics yesterday.

Hitchens drew attention to the dangerous centrality personality has obtained in politics saying: "One of the reasons our country is so badly governed is the childish attitude we have to our politicians."

It is true that personality has become a priority for politicians, reducing them to vacuous celebrities. Just look at the celebrity stylings of David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.

One of the most genuinely depressing days of my University years preceded the 2010 general election. I had returned home to Bolton, Greater Manchester, to visit my family out of term time. Walking through a neglected part of town David Cameron's preposterous portrait assaulted me with a face full of fake tan. This was of course part of the Conservative's infamous billboard campaign in which Cameron's belligerent buffoonery plagued the public in what I initially thought must be self-parody. Upon realising it wasn't I was comforted by the realisation that nobody could take such visibly contrived campaign seriously. Sadly they did and the most depressing day of my University years followed months later when I awoke to discover that the man with a cosmetic outlook to baffle Bowie was my Prime Minister.

Cameron serves as an example of the depths to which British politics has descended but at least he presented us with some sort of political profile too. His was a mission for office informed by trashy celebrity culture that he used to appeal to the public.

Boris Johnson on the other hand is a politician who has secured celebrity status with such success that it's difficult to know precisely where he stands. Ask anybody who loves bumbling Bo-Jo what provoked their admiration and they'll inevitably say something concerning his admirable head of hair, the way he speaks or his zip-wire malfunction of the 2012 Olympics. What they won't talk about is his tough stance on crime or his views on gay marriage. Here is a politician who has satisfied the public's tiresome, masochistic hunger for celebrity interaction. In doing so he has secured a fan base as opposed to a political following.

Nigel Farage also provides an interesting study. The most astounding thing about his political year has been his ability to wrap himself in a protective sheen to which no shame sticks. When asked by Nick Clegg on national television to explain a UKIP leaflet that compared the genocide against Native Americans undertaken by white European settlers to the UK's immigration issues, he outright avoided it. Yet he received ringing endorsement from a majority of the debate's viewers who decided he'd out-argued Clegg. Put simply: he got away with it. Why? The viewing public let him. This is because despite his right-wing rhetoric, Farage is unavoidably likeable. Why does Nick Griffin not get away with denying his denial of the holocaust live on Question Time? He has the charisma and likability of leftover cabbage soup.

Since the charisma of Tony Blair and the subsequent PR blunders of the apparently unlikable Gordon Brown, the substance of politicians has been judged by the same criteria as that of reality TV stars.

This worrying syndrome has accelerated since the TV debates that preceded the 2010 General Election and has manifested itself today in a guffawing, obedient collective of drones who nod in uniformity to the shallow piffle of a politicians who look and sound the part.

For the good of British politics there needs to be a conscientious shift away from this nonsense.

We may not be to blame for the actions of politicians but those who govern will only ever stand a chance of being held accountable when we stop treating them like graduates of the Big Brother academy and start scrutinising their service to the public.

I don't particularly care about the likability of the nation's leader and think all would do well to reflect on Peter Hitchens' assertion that it'd be preferable to have an unlikeable leader who knows what's going on than a charismatic but ultimately vacuous careerist.

Trashy celebrity culture has infected our press, our television and our music. Let's not let it shape democracy too.

Participation in such a system is willingness to be charmed and deceived by the most powerful in the land.