It’s only Day Two but the election campaign has already sunk to new depths of desperation and derision. After the Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband braved a grilling from Jeremy Paxman last week, today it was the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg’s turn.
But the tough questions he faced were not about the economy or food banks or his personal leadership qualities. No, instead Clegg was asked the question that, let’s face it, has been on all of our lips for the past five years of this coalition government.
He was asked why his party has such a “weird” and “long” name and, perhaps more crucially, why it “has the word cats in it”. Yes, really. However, this was not, as it turned out, Paxman having a mental breakdown because the questioner was in fact someone else entirely, a man with rather less experience as a political interrogator, being the star of the TV reality series The Only Way Is Essex, Joey Essex.
The 24-year-old, who is apparently making a documentary for ITV 2 on the election, questioned Nick Clegg during his party’s launch of the Lib Dem manifesto for mental health. Let us, for the moment, ignore that little irony.
Joey Essex admitted to Clegg that he does not “really know much about all the politics”. This was, it transpired, something of an understatement. Essex questioned why every party “thinks they are right about everything”, he asked what is the point of voting Lib Dem, and he told Clegg that being Deputy Prime Minister must be “sick”. This, for those uninitiated in the language of “yoof”, means it’s a good thing.
The heavyweight philosophical discussion really got into the nitty-gritty of the election campaign when Essex asked: “Why are they called Liberal Democats? It’s a long word, innit?” Later adding: “It’s a weird word, innit? It’s got cats in it.”
Clegg had to patiently explain why his party is actually called the Liberal DemoCRATS, with no mention of felines of any kind. And, as evidence that the party has a sense of humour, the LibDems temporarily changed the logo on their official website from a yellow bird to a yellow cat. Oh, how the long winter nights must just fly by at LibDem HQ… The response from the Joey man-child to Clegg’s explanation? “Oh wicked.” And that, folks, is pretty much all anyone is going to remember from the second day of the official election campaign to decide who is going to run this country.
Because this is where we are: an idiot asking a dumb question matters more than a proper, intelligent, informed debate about what will make Britain a richer, fairer country in which we can all live and prosper.
The vital issues of GDP, debts, employment and welfare all dwarfed for an entire 24 hour news cycle by a man who, as a contestant on another reality show, I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here, admitted to fellow jungle campers that he did not know how to tell the time from a clock face or how to tie his own shoelaces.
I am, just for the record, not making those two facts up. Joey Essex really couldn’t do those things. He is, however, allowed to vote. Am I alone in thinking that this is quite terrifying? That people who can’t tell the time, and who don’t know the name of one of the political parties that has been in government for the past five years, are allowed to have a say in choosing the next one?
But it’s actually worse than that. I don’t object to the fact that Joey Essex has the right to vote. I don’t want that right taken away from him because democracy, for all its many faults, is still the least worst way we have of deciding who runs the country and we can’t insist on IQ or general knowledge tests for every voter before handing over their ballot paper. We should all have an equal say.
It’s Nick Clegg who I blame. He’s the one who thought it was a good idea to be interviewed by a man who can’t tell the time on his own watch. Because Joey Essex didn’t just happen to turn up at the LibDem election event, he was invited. And it isn’t just the LibDems who have invited him to join their campaign either.
The TV reality star is also due to interview Labour’s Ed Miliband and Tory leader David Cameron during the election campaign. If our politicians really believe that the way to reach out to young voters is to be interviewed by idiots, then get the handcart ready because Hell already has the kettle on and is waiting for us.
Why didn’t Joey Essex bother to even find out the name of Nick Clegg’s party before interviewing the Deputy Prime Minister? I’ll tell you why: because he can get away with it.
Because we are too quick to make excuses for people who refuse to engage in our democracy and then bleat about being alienated and disillusioned when really the truth is they just can’t be bothered.
Because the political and media class will indulge these strange creatures they refer to as “ordinary voters” (as opposed to the other “extraordinary voters”, I assume). They will race to put a microphone into the face of anyone who happily insists as loudly as they can that they haven’t got the foggiest idea what any of the parties stand for, as if it is something of which to be proud.
Because no one tells people like Joey Essex that actually there’s this thing called “the news” on the telly, and other things called “newspapers” and, oh yes, the “internet”, all of which can provide plenty of easy-to-access information about politics as well as what Kim Kardashian was wearing yesterday.
And then we will all blame the politicians and the media – as per usual – for failing to engage with young voters just like Joey Essex who fail to turn out to cast their vote on polling day. Because it’s All Our Fault. Not theirs. Oh no. Of course not. It’s only Day Two but the election campaign has already delivered another nail in the coffin for our democracy. And that, Joey Essex, isn’t sick, it’s tragic.Innit.