Should commentators run for office?

'Talks & Events' / CC
Photograph: 'Talks & Events' / CC

I remember a while back the media got their sweet revenge on Russell Brand when he ruled himself out of ever running to be an MP. Poor Russell, at this stage presenting himself as a British Che Guevara and spouting nonsense only decipherable to mad men, went on Question Time and had his backside handed to him. The house of cards fell when the ex-Mr Perry was asked by an audience if he felt so strongly about politics, would be consider running for office. Brand’s response was a school boy cliche: “I would stand for parliament but I would be afraid I would become one of them”.

In other words, hypocritical nonsense from the man said he didn’t vote and was encouraging people to vote Labour (he later admitted he ruined the election for Ed Miliband).

Brand was put on the spot but he’s not alone among equally tribal commentators who won’t run for public office themselves. The Mail recently imagined the first 1000 days of Jeremy Corbyn’s Britain with Owen Jones as chief of staff. Jones makes no secret of his support for Corbyn, and while he is notably left-wing he at least has a substantive body of books and articles to his name that moves him beyond a faddish broken record like Brand.

Across the board of political commentators in the UK, you have many others who would be considered as more than just your average political bias. Whatever their declared profession, if they have a featured or regular column in a newspaper then they’ve been endorsed by that publication as having an opinion that should be heard. Yet they don’t merely report events or offer insight but actively endorse candidates and parties. They exist at the nexus of author/commentator/writer/pundit/celebrity and advance an argument surreptitiously under the guise of respected commentary.

For all the different digital platforms that the public can get information and opinion from, newspapers are still considered the benchmark premium of authority. If it’s printed, it’s either valuable or true. It’s the rise of the politicised pundit who is tone deaf in their vitriol for those who stand against what they think is right. Jones or Brand or Frankie are examples on the left, but Katie Hopkins and Jeremy Clarkson are just as strongly worded on the right (if less pronounced about whom they support personally). It’s a game of degrees.

So the question remains – should these people run for office themselves? To be clear commentary and opinions should not be expressed with the caveat ‘well, why don’t you run for something?’. It would be unrealistic, undemocratic and impractical. Nevertheless, there are a handful who have become so political themselves that they’ve moved into hypocrisy for decrying UK politics and its institutions and the government of the day while doing nothing to try and fix the problem.

A case in point is when Douglas Carswell invited Owen Jones to walk round the corner and give extra cash to the Treasury if he really believed people should voluntarily pay more tax. He declined.

It’s a problem that is going to get worse with the return of a traditional left-right dichotomy in British politics and it’s something we should spot and call the worst offenders out on.

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Alastair Stewart 260 Articles

Alastair Stewart is a freelance writer and mentor. In 2013, Alastair founded DARROW, Scotland’s only dedicated forum for more than 200 up and coming writers. The magazine works predominantly with 16-35-year-olds to give them the tools they need to share their ideas, hone their craft and thrive as writers, journalists, and storytellers. He regularly writes about politics, history, and culture for magazines across Europe.

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