Jeremy Clarkson ‘MP’ – Should stars be in the commons ?

At one time, politicians and Members of Parliament, were depicted as powerful, intelligent and passionate individuals, motivated to changing their constituencies and campaigning for the beliefs of their party manifestos. Today, it seems a generation of citizens relying so heavily on TV and celebrity culture are looking to support and vote for more familiar faces.

Top Gear host Jeremy Clarkson declared his intention to stand as an Independent Candidate on Twitter, asking his followers to feedback on their thoughts. Clarkson wrote “I’m thinking I might stand in the next election as an independent for Doncaster North, which is where I’m from. Thoughts?”

Although it might not entirely be serious, it does bring about the question of whether the tide is shifting towards who voters want to stand and represent their views. Expenses scandals, wage increases and tough policies on budget cuts have led many to question who they want to lead the country and who they want to stand in their area. The rise of the UK Independence Party has shown how even a party with little funding can attract a keen following.

UKIP gained well in the 2013 local elections and has risen significantly in the polls. Policies which tackle immigration and the debate over Europe have gained support over the U-turns and dithering of the coalition government. However, to me, it seems that the success of UKIP is to be temporary rather than long-lasting. The current manifesto is a simple argument against government policies which have proven controversial which is why the party have become ever more popular in recent months. However, let me dig back to 2010 General Election. Third running horse Nick Clegg made a promise about university tuition fees. When arriving in Government that policy was comprehensively broken and so much of the hype and support that the Lib Dems had in 2010 has since been wiped away. The same, I fear, I will happen to UKIP.

So does this mean that all independent candidates should give up? Not necessarily. In Jeremy Clarkson’s case, he is a controversial figure. On the BBC’s Motoring show, Top Gear, the presenter is known for his outspoken comments about the Government and their actions; these are generally supported by the studio audience, a reflection of the millions who watch Top Gear around the globe. So certainly he is on some kind of level with the voter. As much as I enjoy Clarkson, it would be hard to see how he would create his own policies without reference to bigoted points such as “everybody who drives below 70mph will be blown up”. His controversy on Top Gear which make the weekly headlines is unlikely to make him a serious candidate, but some of his thoughts and interests do reflect the ‘national interest’.

Could we be seeing Jeremy Clarkson in the Commons ?

Could we be seeing Jeremy Clarkson in the Commons ?

An opinated figure, there have been previous campaigns for Jeremy Clarkson to be Prime Minister, thanks to his somewhat eccentric ideas yet the campaigns have been dismissed by Downing Street. However, the character of Clarkson would be ideal as a politician. He openly states that he “sits back” and waits for the criticisms of every Top Gear episode and he is certainly familiar to making the headlines. His hard faced and stubborn approach which has beckoned him a legion of fans make him suitable to the modern day politics of spin, controversy, blunders and media. But what about his thoughts? Although many sceptics dismiss him entirely, his thoughts expressed on Top Gear are often sensible. Ever since the first series of the motoring show, he has campaigned for the axing of the M4 Bus Lane. He has challenged former transport ministers about speeding on the roads, questioning whether it is just another way of taking money off motorists. His interview with John Prescott was intentionally a ridicule but the former Government minister was left trembling and dismayed by Clarkson and his audience.

Whilst the familiarity and persona of Clarkson may make a good MP, I’m not sure about his policies and manifesto. Of course, there have been celebrity culture links to modern day politics. Former GMTV presenter Gloria De Piero switched from sofa to backbench, joining the Labour Party as the MP for Ashfield. There have also been many a celebrity endorsements. John Cleese, Daniel Radcliffe, David Tennant, Gary Barlow, Lord Sugar and more have all publicly supported a respected party, usually through public broadcasts. The idea is to create a profile and personality to a political party. If someone the voter follows on the television is suddenly supporting a party, the mass following can be convinced to vote. Vital when voting figures spiral down every election. Familiarity to the party is key and using famous faces is the way to do it.

Of course there have been attempts to bring politics into the celebrity culture. Nadine Dorries MP used the “I’m a Celebrity…” programme to raise her profile and supposedly raise interest in politics through the TV medium. Of course the moments when she did speak about her political beliefs were edited out. The result was a humiliation. Figures such as Lord Sugar blend their political roles and celebrity lives seamlessly, whilst some MP’s become renowned for their reputation. During the Olympic and Paralympic Games in London in 2012, Chancellor George Osborne was unceremoniously ‘booed’ by the strong crowd.

It is probably very easy to gain a reputation in politics. Doing one thing alone can last a lifetime. John Prescott’s punch on a voter for instance. Today, as generations and the population grow, so does the interest in celebrity lifestyle, showbiz and gossip. Little consideration for the politics of Westminster and local government. It’s a shame. The suggestion by Top Gear’s infamous host will be supported by his strong following because of their interests and desire. It will probably never happen. But it does bring a very good question about the familiarity of our representatives. Despite the scandal and sleaze, not all of our MP’s should be tarred with the same brush, but if Jeremy Clarkson can intend to run as a Member of Parliament, who else can. Raising their profile, connections and general familiarity is key ahead of the next election for the members.

Have we seen the best of Top Gear ?

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Top Gear line up: Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.

Top Gear line up: Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May.

I will always openly admit that my favourite programme on television is Top Gear. The mix of laughter, cars and genuine passion and interest for what the three presenters do is what appeals to me most. Hosted by Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May, “New Top Gear”, as they call it, began in October 2002. Ten years on, Top Gear remains the most watched car programme in the world with over 300 million viewers and remains one of the, if not the, most successful and most watched show on British television. But in recent years, the numbers of shows per series has decreased dramatically, and the content of the show has moved away from the original ethos of Top Gear. So have we really seen the best of Top Gear?

When considering what to write in this blog, I originally thought it would be a simple answer of yes, however, the latest series of the programme, broadcast in early 2013, has shown how the quality of the show remains one of the highest on British TV. Stunning camera shots, specialist filming of high performance vehicles and interesting yet quirky items have seen Top Gear deliver highly on their changed priorities – more expensive and powerful cars are reviewed over ‘sensible’ cars for the average motorist.

The early editions of the new format of Top Gear did reflect some of the content of the old format. Informative and factual reviews of cars such as the Citreon Berlingo and Land Rover Discovery made the car reviews, whilst the new interests of the modern viewer wanted excitement and power. This came in the form of more focus on power cars such as the Lamborghini Murcielago and Pagani Zonda. The new format is studio based, unlike the previous, and features new additions such as lap times with The Stig, and a new interview feature – A Star in a Reasonably Priced Car. These segments revived Top Gear from what was a struggling motoring programme into a show that boasts immense commercial success.

It was around series 4 when Top Gear moved to film new and exciting challenges such as the legendary Aston Martin versus a train to Monte Carlo and the cars playing football – a feature which still recurs today. In the latest series’ of Top Gear, there has been a shift from the review of sensible, everyday cars, to longer films about supercars and the challenges the presenters face from the producers. This is not necessarily a bad thing. I always defend the programme when people claim ‘they don’t do normal cars’. That’s not because they’re not interested in them. The audience has changed. Younger viewers want excitement and high-octane thrills. An insight into the power of a Ferrari is likely to be preferred over reviews of a bog standard Vauxhall.

In 2007, Top Gear moved into another new era, as some of the one hour programmes became dedicated to one single challenge. These often consist of buying a certain type of car for less than a given budget and then driving them through rough terrain, encountering a number of difficulties. The rapport of the presenters, the character of the cars chosen and the obscene challenges faced are what have and continue to bring in the millions of viewers who tune in on a Sunday night.

I can’t, however, feel comfortable that Top Gear will go from strength to strength. The legendary films that Top Gear has produced – the trip to the North Pole, the American special and Bugatti Veyron race across Europe are items that viewers will not forget and that brings a very high standard to future productions. It’s simple – some but not all of the films following such stand out years for Top Gear have not been matched.

At points, there is some question about the spontaneity of events. The caravan holiday antics where a tourer was set on fire, for instance, was set up, yet was presented very realistically. The idea of some features purposely being scripted for laughs seems rather disappointing to any viewer, especially when the show was so spontaneous in earlier editions.

It must be commended that the show does have a proven track record of success. No other programme has ever been as commercially successful as Top Gear and probably no other programme will be. The recent 19th series of the programme finished alongside two “Best of Top Gears” – a regular look back the highlights at the end of the series. The stand out feature from this series was the quality of the films. Yes, Top Gear might not film as many reports as previous series’ but the quality of what is produced is above and beyond an ordinary motoring programme. The two-part special featuring the presenters travelling to find the source of the River Nile was possibly the greatest Top Gear adventure yet. The trip felt fresh, alive and exciting. The presenters were genuinely passionate about their quest to find what they had been challenged with. And with the usual combination of bickering, bantering and boyishness, the show was a ratings success for the BBC.

Some of the ideas have felt a little strained, almost as if Top Gear executives are running out of ideas. However, if Top Gear are going to do less shows per year, the overall quality of series 19 would be welcomed any day.

Yes, Top Gear has been on air, in its current format, for over ten years now. And yes, it does feel that the top of the hill has been reached in terms of its features. I will always be an avid and loyal viewer to Top Gear whatever happens. Lots of people will moan about how the show has moved from its roots to focussing just on fast super cars. My argument is that Top Gear is a reflection of its audience. An audience which has developed and changed with the years.

Awarding Jeremy Clarkson a special recognition award in 2007, Sir Trevor McDonald claimed: “He has helped create a niche show for enthusiasts into a must see show for millions of fans.” Not many programmes can boast of that success.