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Which candidate has the X-Factor?

December 18, 2008

column-picture1At the risk of being accused of watching too much television, I thought I would offer a few thoughts on the X-Factor result this week.

How can he possibly manufacture a political article out of the X-Factor I hear you ask? Fear not, there is no end to the near-impossible feats that Lib Dems can achieve!

There were a few things that stuck with me as I watched the final show on Saturday (rooting, I have to say, for Alexandra Burke).

The first was a comment made by Simon Cowell in one of the out-takes from previous shows.

I have to admit that I am not, ordinarily, a Simon Cowell fan. He comes across as quite the arrogant lad. Perhaps it’s a celeb’ persona that he has developed, but nevertheless, he clearly loves himself and can be highly irritating…

After a clip of Alexandra singing in a previous round, Simon said to her that she had made him ‘proud to be British’.

This, in turn, made me very proud. Proud of the fact that we live in a sufficiently diverse and integrated society that we have British people of every size and hue, able to respect each other for the talent that they have.

It was also interesting to see, in the part where there were messages to Alexandra and JLS from their families, the ethnic diversity of the family backgrounds of the (both black) finalist acts.

The second thing that struck me was the courage it had taken for Alexandra, the eventual winner, to pick herself up, after having been kicked out of the competition in a previous year, and come back and start all over again.

Finally, I got to thinking about the 8 million votes that were rung in, at the expense of the callers themselves, during that final show, and I wondered how it is that there is so much more interest in, and ownership of this kind of light entertainment programme than there is in our political process.

I don’t pretend to have the answer to this question, and I guess it must be a complex mixture of the alienation, the disillusionment that people feel; the ongoing class aspects to candidacy across the political parties; the feeling that, in the system we have got, in most places, votes don’t count for anything.

But there is one thing that struck me forcibly about the process of voting for X-Factor acts: the acts are all on a level playing field.

They all get the same opportunities to perform. They all have access to the same resources in respect of getting their ‘message’ across.

It is not like that in British politics. As I have mentioned in previous columns, money has an unhealthy role in the capacity of the different political parties to get their message across – whether this be in the ability to pay for the design, publication and delivery of endless glossy leaflets, or in the ability to pay PR companies to telephone canvass on the back of sophisticated market research information, or in the communications and stationery budget of an incumbent MP.

Whilst we will move a step closer to it in the new year with the Observer agreeing to give all three parliamentary candidates equal exposure through a column in the paper, I wonder what the impact of a truly level playing field would be in our local politics?

Who would be the candidate to come through strongest if we did things à la reality TV?

And would this be a different result than the one we will get at the General Election?

When it eventually comes around, will it be Amber, Michael or myself… And what will the policies be that have that crucial draw for local people?

Who will have the parliamentary equivalent of the X-Factor?


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