Do celebrities risk crossing a line when engaging with politics? Gary Jenkins debates whether those with a platform are necessarily qualified to use it for political activism.
Public support for politicians has always been known to spark quite the storm when it comes to celebrities and influencers, as it could be seen as an attempt to sway voter decisions and impact reputation. In the US, celebrity endorsements have long been weaponized, with the likes of Beyonce endorsing Hilary Clinton in the presidential race, while Trump himself used his celebrity status to launch his political career.
In the UK, political parties are now putting greater focus on the sway of celebrities and influencers. However, the decision to declare political leanings can have a major impact on a celebrity brand, and we’ve seen plenty of examples of this over the years.
Spice Girlgate: Geri Halliwell and Nadine Dorries
Following England’s 2022 Euros win over the summer, an image of Halliwell clutching Conservative politician and avid Boris Johnson supporter Dorries quickly circulated on social media.
As is usually the case with the internet, Twitter users weren’t shy to vocalize their opinions on the pairing. Fans questioned how one-fifth of a household-name girl band, promoting girl power and LGBTQ+ rights for over two decades, could now have her arms wrapped around a politician who voted against gay marriage. However, having branded former prime minister Margaret Thatcher as ‘the first Spice Girl’ in 1996, it seems as though Halliwell has never shied away from politics.
Gary Neville joins the Labour Party
Another celebrity not afraid to speak their political mind is Gary Neville, who was highly critical of the government’s handling of Covid-19 and partygate in Downing Street, gaining a huge Twitter following in the process.
Gary has now joined the Labour Party and was a guest of Kier Starmer at its annual conference in Liverpool. However, as the former footballer entered the world of politics, his personal brand became further exposed.
Some have looked to scrutinize his career as a property investor, and his decision to work for a Qatar-associated TV network during the World Cup landed him a roasting when he guest-hosted Have I Got News for you.
Ella Henderson performs at the Tory Party conference
Another celebrity appearance happened at the Tory Party conference in Birmingham, where X Factor star Ella Henderson performed for Conservative members. The clip of her at the scene quickly circulated across Twitter, and fans were less than supportive.
In the face of the backlash, a spokesperson for UK Music said her performance didn’t reflect her political views, with the statement reading: “These events do not indicate political affiliation and are held to highlight the importance of the UK’s music sector and the success of our talent on a global stage. It’s vital that those in government and opposition appreciate the importance of the UK music industry both economically and culturally.”
However, it’s unlikely this reply cut it, given that a party conference is an inherently political event. Ella Henderson may have work to do to prove her apolitical views, or otherwise.
What does the public have to say?
Let’s look at the data. According to a YouGov poll, only 9% of Brits favor celebrity endorsement on political issues, while 52% of the population were opposed to celebrity involvement in politics.
A quarter of Brits said celebrity involvement in an area of politics would have a negative effect on how they felt, while only one in 20 voted in favor of celebrity involvement around a certain issue having a positive impact. However, the majority (63%) said celebrity advocacy would have no bearing either positively or negatively on how they felt about politics.
Is it wrong to condemn a public figure on their political views?
Well, there’s cause to support both arguments. Some may argue that public figures who have the platform to inspire change should be responsible for advocating for positive political engagement, such as exercising the right to vote.
Others argue that celebrities should avoid vocalizing their political beliefs, as their own personal beliefs shouldn’t influence another’s without proper research. For the Fordham Observer, Srushti Kshirsagar wrote: “Most celebrities are not educated on the issue of politics to be credible commentators.”
Whether your political opinions lean to the left, the right or somewhere in the middle, broadcasting a strong political stance can have a huge impact on a celebrity’s public image, but very little impact on voter decision, it seems.
When a celebrity or public figure openly supports a political figure, in the eyes of the public they are not only supporting them personally but endorsing all they believe in – such as the ways in which they have previously voted – and siding with any stigmas that may be associated with that political party.
Anyone with such a huge platform should remain conscious that the political views they are expressing could be highly influential to impressionable fans, which poses a new question: is it ethical for celebrities to use their platform to persuade fans to follow their political beliefs?