In the US, a reality star becomes the next president. In Italy, a party led by a stand-up comedian threatens to push out the governing Democratic party and depose Prime Minister Matteo Renzi after Sunday’s referendum on constitutional reform. Left-wing Beppe Grillo is using his fame and a highly popular blog to gather supporters up and down the country, just as Berlusconi parlayed his flamboyant personality, common touch and ready access to media (the millionaire owned TV channels and newspapers) years ago.
Five Star currently commands 30 per cent of the vote, and their appeal is growing daily, fuelled by anti-government rhetoric and claims they would tackle immigration, cut corruption and waste. Doesn’t that sound rather like Donald Trump?
In the UK, a former senior Labour politician, once the executor of Chancellor Gordon Brown’s austerity measures, who personified everything many people loathed about an inward-looking political class, has become a pin-up millions of families voted for every week. And – even more incredible – they spent their own money paying for those votes!
The transformation of Ed Balls from Labour bully boy to charismatic reality TV star (and one without a seat in the British Parliament, just like that other “man of the people” Nigel Farage) over the last two decades is a fascinating story. Ed was always more than a Labour policy wonk who bored interviewers into submission by droning on endlessly like a stuck record: super-brainy, he had the backstory of overcoming a chronic stammer and admitted to crying when he heard The Sound of Music or watched Antiques Roadshow.
The huggable, touchy-feely Ed Balls was normally kept in the closet; these weren’t qualities that would get you to the top in Labour, dominated by a perceived class war against “Tory toffs”. But the moment in 2015 when Ed lost his parliamentary seat by just 422 votes was a game-changer. The former shadow Chancellor went from career politician to house-husband overnight. He looked absolutely gobsmacked as the result was read out, a top scalp for gloating Tories.
Next year, boundary changes will mean that Ed’s seat will be winnable – but will he return? What his stint on Strictly demonstrated in spades is that he doesn’t take on any job unless he can give it 120 per cent. He could have followed George Galloway’s piteous example of Big Brother and offered a self-conscious, lacklustre performance. But Ed decided to embrace his inner camp and go for it – silly costumes, outrageous posing and naff moves galore – as he channelled what he referred to as his “inner Beyonce”.
The result? Viewers took him to their hearts, routinely voting in their millions to save him as the judges continually marked him low, until he could cling on no longer and finally left last weekend. Ed’s struggle was an uplifting and joyous experience to be part of, something you don’t often see on television: a riotous combination of pure enthusiasm and a total lack of embarrassment.
On ITV’s Loose Women this week, the audience were eating out of his hand as Ed talked about what to do next. He tried to teach me to cha-cha-cha, but sadly I am unpromising material. Now, having shed one and a half stone, Ed is brimming with confidence after years of being defensive and combative. The change is remarkable. Let’s not forget he’s got a brain, too: he’s a fellow at Harvard and visiting professor at King’s College London.
He’s signed up to do the Strictly tour, and is rumoured to be considering an appearance in the next series of Big Brother. Television work is far more lucrative than writing books: Ed’s memoir Speaking Out attracted decent reviews but languishes at number eight in the political bestseller lists, under Ken Clarke and Alan Johnson. Both also have the common touch, like Nigel Farage – when they speak, people feel a connection. None of them wants to continue in British politics (that’s what they are saying now), which is a real loss.
Bookmakers are offering 33-to-1 odds on Ed becoming the next leader of the Labour party and I’d be amazed if he doesn’t capitalise on his new broad appeal. Politics and political parties must adjust to what turns disenfranchised voters on, and Donald Trump is leading the new way forward. Voters are no longer enamoured by the old restrictive party system – there is a huge consensus on many issues that crosses political divides.
In an age of disaffection, what matters more than nit-picking over policies is the ability to communicate and reach out. The new Ed Balls has it; Ed Miliband never did. Corbyn might appeal to the young but it’s the Strictly audience who will determine the next leader of the Labour Party.Reuse content