Tuesday, 6 September 2011

London elections – a choice between policy and celebrity

The news that ‘I’m A Celebrity…’ participant Brian Paddick is to stand as the Lib Dem candidate for mayor, seems to confirm that next year's contest for London mayor will be a clear choice between policy and celebrity.

The attraction to the limelight of both Livingstone and Johnson is well known. Indeed, Lembit Opik, who was unsuccessful in his bid to be the Lib Dem candidate stood on an explicitly ‘celebrity’ platform, arguing that his party needed someone of similar status.

“Boris and Ken are celebrity politicians. I fear the party doesn't grasp the implications of this”
...he told the Standard, as he conceded defeat. His point? Paddick is a celebrity of sorts, but the Lib Dems needed a bigger one.

But the choice of celebrity politicians with which Londoners are now faced, should be of concern for a different reason entirely. As we have seen with Boris Johnson over the last few years, celebrity can be compensation for some very uncreative, and poor policy-making. It also appears to contribute to a lack of accountability. It makes it easier for policians to charm their way out of difficult situations, without addressing the issues that really matter.

As Green mayoral candidate Jenny Jones has pointed out, what London needs is not more of the same, but fresh ideas for the economic and social climate which London now faces. If celebrity was ever affordable in easier times, it certainly isn't now that the stakes are so much higher.

As the cuts bite, times get tougher, and the election approaches, the importance of the choice between policy and celebrity will become even clearer.

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