Do celebrities risk crossing the line when they get involved in politics? Gary Jenkins discusses whether people with a platform are necessarily qualified to use it for political activism.
Public support for politicians is known to always cause quite a storm when it comes to celebrities and influencers, as it can be seen as an attempt to influence voters’ decisions and affect reputation. In the US, celebrity endorsements have long been weaponized, with the likes of Beyoncé endorsing Hillary Clinton in the presidential race, while Trump himself used his celebrity status to launch his political career.
In the UK, political parties are now paying more attention to the influence of celebrities and influencers. However, the decision to declare a political affiliation can have a big impact on a celebrity’s brand, and we’ve seen many examples of this over the years.
Spice Girlgate: Geri Halliwell and Nadine Dorries
Following England’s Euro 2022 victory in the summer, an image of Halliwell snapping Conservative politician and avid Boris Johnson supporter Dorris quickly went viral on social media.
As is usually the case on the internet, Twitter users weren’t shy about voicing their opinions on the pairing. Fans questioned how one-fifth of a famous girl band promoting girl power and LGBTQ+ rights for more than two decades could now embrace a politician who voted against gay marriage. However, after calling former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher “the first spice girl” in 1996, Halliwell never seems to have shied away from politics.
Gary Neville joins the Labor Party
Another celebrity who isn’t afraid to voice his political opinion is Gary Neville, who has been highly critical of the government’s handling of Covid-19 and Downing Street’s partygate, gaining a huge following on Twitter in the process.
Gary now joined the Labor Party and was a guest of Keir Starmer at his annual conference in Liverpool. However, with the former footballer’s entry into the world of politics, his personal brand has become even more exposed.
Some have tried to scrutinize his career as a property investor and his decision to work for a Qatari-linked TV network during the World Cup led to him being grilled when he guest hosted Have I Got News for you.
Ella Henderson performs at the Tory conference
Another celebrity appearance took place at the Tory party conference in Birmingham, where X Factor star Ella Henderson performed for Conservative members. The clip of her on stage quickly went viral on Twitter and fans were not supportive.
Faced with the backlash, a spokesperson for UK Music said her performance did not reflect her political views, with the statement saying: “These events do not indicate political affiliation and are held to highlight the importance of the UK music sector and the success of our talent on global scene. It is vital that those in government and opposition appreciate the importance of the UK music industry both economically and culturally.”
However, this answer is unlikely to cut it, given that the party conference is inherently a political event. Ella Henderson may have work to prove her apolitical views or else.
What does the public have to say?
Let’s look at the data. According to a YouGov survey, only 9% of Britons support celebrity support on political issues, while 52% of the population oppose celebrity involvement in politics.
A quarter of Britons said a celebrity’s involvement in an area of politics would have a negative effect on how they feel, while only one in 20 voted in favor of a celebrity’s involvement around a particular issue having a positive effect. However, a majority (63%) said celebrity advocacy would have neither a positive nor a negative effect on how they feel about politics.
Is it wrong to condemn a public figure for their political views?
Well, there is reason to support both arguments. Some might 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 expressing their political beliefs because their own personal beliefs should not influence those of others without proper research. For the Fordham Observer, Srushti Kshirsagar wrote, “Most celebrities are not educated enough about politics to be credible commentators.”
Whether your political views are on the left, right, or somewhere in between, airing a strong political stance can have a huge impact on a celebrity’s public image, but seem to have very little impact on voters’ decision.
When a celebrity or public figure openly endorses a political figure, in the public eye they’re not just endorsing them personally, they’re endorsing everything they believe in—like the ways they used to vote—and side with any stigmas that may be associated with this political party.
Anyone with such a huge platform must remain aware that the political views they express can be highly influential to impressionable fans, which raises a new question: Is it ethical for celebrities to use their platform to persuade fans to follow their political beliefs?