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Does the power of celebrity have a place in politics?

Does the power of celebrity have a place in politics?

Hollywood loves an underdog story. Rocky, Seabiscuit, Trump? Well, perhaps not quite. The world of celebrity (Clint Eastwood aside, no relation) was eerily quiet at Trump’s ascension to the presidency.

It seemed a script that even the zaniest Hollywood writer could surely not have dreamt up two years ago, and cast all manner of doubt on the impact of celebrity endorsement. With the might of the mainstream media and support from figures from Katy Perry, to Beyoncé, to Lady Gaga, to Chris Evans (no, not that one) behind her, Hillary Clinton still could not hold back the tide and beat a very average candidate.

Fast forward to June 2017, and Jeremy Corbyn achieved success in a way that Clinton simply couldn’t. It is worth quantifying that Corbyn did not ‘win’ the election, he was well short of a majority, but he did harness the potential of social media and celebrity to create a movement, amongst young people in particular, that led to a result that no political commentator had predicted (whatever he says now, The Guardian’s Owen Jones didn’t see it coming).

Nobody expected to see hashtags like #Grime4Corbyn taking off, but that’s exactly what happened. When even Grime MCs are wading into the debate, it is worth taking a step back to explore the role that the celebrity now plays in the political sphere.

First and foremost it is an amazing thing that the power of celebrity can play a role in bringing people otherwise totally disengaged into the discussion. The young, and many other people who felt disenfranchised before the election, were invigorated by the momentum Corbyn’s campaign generated.

Celebrities can also use their position to raise crucial issues, JK Rowling is an example of somebody who uses her platform to regularly do so (see below evisceration of Westboro Baptist Church), and Jamie Oliver is another who has done so to great effect.

But there are also drawbacks. In some ways, politics is now more reductive than at any other time in history. The influence of platforms including Facebook and Twitter has changed the very nature of political discourse.

It feels as though we live in a world of increasingly polarised opinion. Cropping manifestos and political opinions into 140 characters might well make things digestible, but there is less room for nuance than ever before. With Brexit and the General Election, there has been a very dangerous recurrent narrative on both sides of the spectrum of ‘them against us’.

The last 18 months have been characterised by a surge in vitriol and division as tensions reach boiling point. The world isn’t split into good and evil, but too often the content we read online gives the impression that it is.

In this atmosphere of heightened pressure, do celebrities have a greater responsibility to think before they tweet so as not to fuel the fire?

There is an elevated risk in what is a pretty poisonous political climate of appearing crass, condescending or even incendiary. Piers Morgan and Katie Hopkins have both built their brands off the back of being controversial firebrands, and by saying what nobody else would (and there’s generally a good reason nobody else would). Milo Yiannopolous did the same until his Twitter ban. All of these ‘provocateurs’ delight in sowing division and taking ‘the left’ to task for all manner of perceived sins.

But fear not, the left is just as happy to fire back. Owen Jones takes great pride in deriding those with differing views, while Lily Allen is another who divides opinion, always ready with a forthright opinion and an unerring ability to upset people.

Even Rowling, the patron saint of millennials, was quick to point the finger at Nigel Farage and the now infamous ‘Breaking Point’ referendum poster in the immediate aftermath of the Finsbury attack. Some may agree with her, but others might contend that such a tweet was insensitive and misrepresentative. Many people disagree with Farage, but to imply that he advocates killing in the streets does nothing to advance the discussion and in the immediate aftermath of an atrocity looks like distasteful pushing of an agenda.

It feels increasingly that battle lines are being drawn. Celebrities have the clout to influence and effect genuine change, the recent election showed that, but with their visibility comes a greater degree of responsibility.

Social media is constantly changing the world around us. The power of celebrity has a place in politics, but exactly how far that power should reach becomes harder to quantify by the day.

In the increasingly factional current political climate, those with the greatest visibility in our society have a duty to think before they speak, pause before they tweet, and to seek to unify rather than divide.

Trump, Brexit, Corbyn – the rules of political engagement have changed

Bandying about insults, interrupting his opponent, a winding monologue packed with hyperbole and absent of any detail.

Casual observers of US politics could be forgiven for thinking they had stumbled upon an episode of The Apprentice. Except it couldn’t be The Apprentice, could it? Sure enough, that was Trump stood up on stage, but with Hillary Clinton alongside him?

No observer, this was not reality TV – this was just symptomatic of the direction politics in the US and the UK is lurching towards.

The less attentive amongst the public would have been left aghast at Donald Trump’s performance in the first US Presidential debate – how could such a man be anywhere near the race for the White House?

Donald Trump, US election

Image courtesy of Gage Skidmore on Flickr

And yet to those who have been paying attention – Trump’s rise is part of a continuing trend in global politics. There has been a noticeable and collective rejection of the establishment permeating across the British and American political spectrums.

The political shift in the last twelve months has been as fast as it has unexpected. For people in the UK, it started in the aftermath of the 2015 General Election, with the Labour leadership race after Ed Milliband tendered his resignation.

Jeremy Corbyn defied the predictions of every pundit, expert and media outlet to secure the leadership of the Labour Party in September 2015 with the largest mandate in the party’s history. Why were people so drawn to Corbyn? Maybe it’s because he is different, he represents change – an alternative to the status quo.

What has followed is twelve months of utter turmoil for the Labour Party and the relentless savaging of Corbyn in the mainstream media.

From a refusal to sing the national anthem, to arguments over trident and defence, to the Labour anti-Semitism scandal, to the Virgin train farce – Corbyn has staggered from one PR disaster to the next, with the baying media falling over each other in their eagerness to sink their teeth into him.

David Cameron described it best, when he said that Corbyn is like the Black Knight from Monty Python, just as he seems to have been defeated and cast aside, he gathers himself and limps on.

Jeremy Corbyn

Image courtesy of Eric the Fish on Flickr

But what this really seems to be demonstrating, is just how wrong the mainstream media are getting politics – three of the most seismic political events of the last year have been the Labour leadership contest, the EU referendum, and the US Presidential race – and so far the media have got two out of three wrong.

Nobody gave Corbyn a hope of surviving a month, then he wasn’t going to see out the new year, then every media outlet told us that Owen Smith was a far more ‘electable’ candidate. The Telegraph, the Sun and the Mail ridiculed him, the Guardian lamented his destruction of the Labour Party. If people believed all they read in the news Owen Smith would surely have thrashed Corbyn with a 99.99% majority.

And yet here we are, blinking at Groundhog Day twelve months on, with Corbyn securing his re-election in a head-to-head with Owen Smith by winning a commanding 61.8% of the vote.

But then what about Brexit? This surely was something that everyone knew the answer to. Every political party beyond UKIP was united behind the idea of staying in the EU.

The Prime Minister wheeled out experts from every imaginable industry to warn against the dangers of leaving the European Union. A ‘Leave’ campaign was fronted by the hapless trio of the lamentable Nigel Farage, the abject Boris Johnson and Michael Gove – a man with all the charisma of a pencil.

All conventional wisdom pointed towards one result – a vote to Remain in the European Union. But another result came and went, and again it went against the prediction of almost every informed expert. Why were people so drawn to Brexit? Maybe it was immigration, maybe it was sovereignty but once again it represented change – and this is how the Leave campaign pitched it – an alternative to the status quo.

Eu flag, brexit

Image courtesy of Marlena on Flickr

So now here we are, with a matter of weeks left until the next President of the USA is decided. Hillary Clinton has the bulk of the mainstream media –newspapers and TV networks on her side. She has the celebrities, the business people, the backing of the political elite.

But it all sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it? Just how confident are the pundits feeling right now about who the next President of the United States will be? How confident does anyone feel in making any predictions over what’s coming next in politics?

Whatever you or I may think of Donald Trump (a great deal of it, I’m sure, is not printable) one thing he does represent is change. He may be incendiary, vitriolic, and arguably unhinged – but if there is one thing he doesn’t represent – it’s the political status quo.

First we got Corbyn, then we got Brexit. It’s crazy to think, but betting on Trump to win doesn’t seem so crazy anymore.

So buckle up, what happens next is anybody’s guess.

Political Campaign Ads – Bizarre, Boastful & Bewildering

By Peter Jackson Eastwood and Emily Burditt

Here at The PHA Group, there’s nothing we love more than an integrated campaign. So it’s only right that we pay tribute to the weird and the wonderful of the political media world with our Top 10 Political Campaign Ads:

10 – Votin’

Brexit has dragged up all manner of anger, frustrations, fears and insecurities. But nothing – and I mean absolutely nothing – comes close to this atrocity. Where to begin? The irony of spelling learnin’ wrong? The fact that as a 21-year-old who is presumably the prime demographic for this steaming pile of cringe I (Peter) know that the letter ‘g’ exists and even indulge in usin’ it when I write? I don’t know but please don’t make me talk about it anymore.

Typin’, Watchin’, Groanin’, Hatin’, Ratin’ (-1000/10), Turnin’, off.

9 – Ivan Massow – Invite Ivan

You know what Ivan? I get this. I totally get it. You want to know what makes Londoners tick and you want to engage with a whole range of communities. What better way than going to meet them and going to talk to them? But here’s the thing, maybe that’s where this should have stopped. Meeting with the public? Great. Engaging with them? Fantastic. Listening to them? Sensational! Living with them? Abandon ship/Lock the door/Run for the hills.

1/10 – A nice idea executed with all the finesse of a pig using chopsticks.

8 – Joni Ernst – Castrating Hogs

A scene from Simon Danczuk’s most intimate, sobering nightmares. A monstrosity that is enough to make anyone shiver, but it holds particular horror for any men watching – so don’t feel guilty if you emitted an involuntary high-pitched squeal, even if that is exactly what Joni wants. You can clearly see Beelzebub dancing in Joni’s pale, merciless eyes as she utilises telepathy in a vicious attempt to castrate anyone watching. If Joni comes up on your tinder, swipe left before she devours your soul.

666/10 – We at The PHA Group do not endorse satanic ritual, under any circumstance.

7 – Lyndon B Johnson – ‘Daisy’

A haunting ad from the Cold War. The camera zooms in on the eyes of an innocent child before cutting to a nuclear explosion. Brexiteers might moan about Project Fear but as far as scaremongering goes this takes the biscuit. The only problem with this ad is that it’s about President Johnson – a man famed for allegedly exposing his manhood to white house staff, foreign dignitaries and just about anyone who was within watching distance.  Also worth noting that his military decisions spawned the famous song – ‘Hey, hey LBJ, how many kids have you killed today?’

4/10 – Controversial but powerful. It’s just a shame that it’s attributed to a maniac who delighted in flashing everyone – thank goodness American Politics is so mundane these days in comparison…

6 – Ted Cruz – The Senator who saved Christmas

There are a multitude of things to distrust Ted Cruz for. If he had his way the Middle East would probably be getting carpet bombed out of existence with exploding bible extracts right now. But as distasteful and divisive as his foreign and domestic policy ideas might be, it is those horrible, shifty eyebrows that make Cruz truly unsettling. Disturbing facial features aside, this is an excellent ad. Bonus points for ‘The Grinch who lost her emails’ and ‘Rudolph the underemployed Reindeer’.

5/10 – Should it be higher? I know we shouldn’t discriminate just because it’s Ted Cruz, but we are doing anyway (If anyone should be understanding of discrimination after all, it is Ted). I’d sooner spend my Christmas in Dante’s inferno than with the slimy senator.

5 – Hillary Clinton – Attack ad on Donald Trump

Trump may think he can walk all over Hillary, but he could be in for a nasty shock. This inventive clip shows other prominent Republicans including: Ted Cruz, Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush laying into Trump. The only problem is that, if anything, it’s rather too kind to him. ‘A race-baiting, xenophobic religious bigot’? I have a feeling Donald will take that as flattery rather than an insult.

6/10 – Cunning to use Trump’s own party against him – things look like they are about to get seriously tasty in the presidential race. Not quite as cutting as we would like though – up the savagery Hillary!

4 – Donald Trump – attack ad on Hillary Clinton

Spare a thought for Hillary Clinton. As if being savaged by Ted Cruz at Christmas wasn’t enough, global barometer of morality Donald Trump is now sticking the boot in as well. Not content with labelling her ‘Crooked Hilary’, he has launched a series of withering attacks on the Democrat frontrunner (the barking clip just won’t go away). Inappropriate and childish, but come on, what else did you expect?

6.1/10 – Trump might be one of the worst people to walk the earth, but he knows how to put simple, memorable content out there. After winning the Democrat nomination, Hillary has plenty more of this to look forward to.

3 – Mike Gravel and his Rock

Stone-faced Mike Gravel, delivering a gritty message as he drops a rock into some water. We certainly think he made a splash.

7/10 – Is Mike’s message sinking in yet?

2 – Dwight Eisenhower – ‘I Like Ike’ 

Cruelly, foolishly, despicably overlooked by your favourite PHA bloggers for the Public Affairs top 10 political campaign songs. Well unlike most politicians, we don’t mind saying sorry when we get something wrong (Pub legend/nutty geezer/West Ham fanatic/perennial non-apologiser Davey C – I’m looking at you). So, we’re sorry. But really we did you a favour – once you’ve heard this delightful little number you’ll be bopping along to it for the rest of the week.

9.9/10 – ‘Ike for president, Ike for president, Ike for president…’

1 – The Green Party – #GrownUpPolitics

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. The Green Party really are a cut above when it comes to political comedy and the quality of their content is getting better and better. It’s impossible to pick a favourite moment but our highlights are: Boris on his tricycle (I’m Prime Minister!), Jeremy’s nasty shadow cabinet (Put the rockets away) and, of course, lonely Tim Farron.

10/10 –Sensational. If the Green Party maintain their current trajectory they will win the 2020 general election off the back of the first ever political musical released in major cinemas.

The London Mayoral Elections: What to Expect

London Mayoral Election

Image courtesy of Secretlondon123 on Flickr

On 5 May London goes to the polls and will elect a new Mayor of London. So far Londoners have remained largely apathetic to the ongoing campaigns. Overshadowed by the hype surrounding the EU referendum (held just a month later), and lacking the larger than life personalities of previous mayoral elections (Boris and Ken, anyone?) many Londoners have so far failed to be inspired.

Sadiq Khan, the Labour candidate and MP for Tooting, looks on course to win the Mayoralty comfortably. However, rather than voting for him personally, polling suggests that Londoners are making their decision based on pre-existing party allegiances.

Turnout could therefore bring about surprises: it is expected to be significantly lower than in previous elections, (the record turnout was 45% in 2008), and a low turnout could favour the Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith.

Despite this, the job of Mayor of London is an important one, and shouldn’t be underestimated. The Mayor runs an economy bigger than most European countries, with a budget bigger than most Government departments. He is responsible for many of the things most important to Londoners, such as TFL, London policing, housing and the environment. Because of this, it is well worth Londoners, and London’s businesses, engaging in the process of electing their mayor and understanding what a Zac or Sadiq victory could mean for them.

Sadiq Khan is a former human rights solicitor who is proud of his London roots. He never fails to mention that his dad was a bus driver, and this down to earth image has contributed to Londoner’s finding him to be easier to identify with than his Tory rival.

Sadiq’s flagship policies have included freezing TFL fares at 2016 prices until 2020, setting a target that 50% of homes being built should be affordable, and making London safer. He has also said that he wants to be the most pro-business mayor yet, putting him at odds with the Labour Party’s current image under Corbyn.

Sadiq is more media savvy than Zac but has been criticised as being ‘policy-lite’ notably being unable to account for the £1.9 bn blackhole in his transport budget, and changing his position on airport expansion.

Zac was also born in London, but in completely differing circumstances. His father is billionaire James Goldsmith, and he attended Eton College before becoming editor of Ecologist Magazine.

Despite being elected as the Conservative MP for Richmond Park, Zac is notably more liberal than most of his colleagues – he is passionate about environmentalism and direct democracy (he even ran a referendum in his constituency to ask for his constituent’s consent for him to run to become Mayor of London).

Zac has promised to double new home building in London to 50,000 per year by 2020, to create half a million more jobs, and to protect green spaces. Controversially for a city as outward facing as London, he is in favour of Britain leaving the EU.

In terms of what a Goldsmith/Khan mayoralty will mean for business, both candidates have been determined to stress how pro-business they are. Sadiq has pledged to be “the most pro-business mayor yet”, stressing his opposition to Corbyn’s anti-business image. Amongst his key policies, he has said that he will involve businesses in decision making on key issues, will challenge visa rules to allow businesses to bring in top talent from abroad, and will seek additional fundraising powers from the Government for major infrastructure projects.

However, it is Zac who will be seen as the safer hands in this area, with Britain having a Conservative Government until at least 2020, allowing him to work more naturally with Downing Street. This was a point that was emphasised recently when Downing Street committed to the devolution of the Overground to TFL, something Zac had been campaigning for. Zac has also pledged to set up a new Business Advisory Group with representatives from the Business community, to fix patchy broadband, and to promote the night time economy.

Although both men are less well known that their predecessors, both candidates are known to stray from the Party line occasionally. Famously, Zac Goldsmith pioneered a stronger Bill to recall MPs against the Conservative Party whips and has been consistently popular in his constituency. Sadiq is one of the Labour MP’s who nominated Corbyn for Party leader, but has since distanced himself from the current Labour leadership. It’s safe to assume that both candidates will be their own man if elected.

Ultimately, Londoners will wake up on May 6th to a new era. Without a strong character like Boris, but with predictions of a global recession approaching as well as possible Brexit on the horizon, who they choose to run the capital is likely to be of great significance.