A pantomime prime minister?

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson
In just a few weeks, Alexander "Boris'' Johnson, a man best known for his humour, haircut, questionable public utterances and pantomime-like name, could become one of the most powerful men in the world.

In Italy, the political party set up and run by actor and comedian Giuseppe "Beppe'' Grillo is now in power. In Ukraine, actor and comedian Volodymyr Zelensky - who rose to fame playing a teacher whose speech catapults him into the presidency - has now seen his hit television show uncannily emulated in reality.

The United States, of course, has reality television star Donald Trump serving as its president, and before him, Barack Obama's ability to reel off jokes was a well-known part of his popularity.

What is happening to democracy? When once we elected forceful and formidable figures like Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Margaret Thatcher to govern us, now we are opting for actors and entertainers.

Have we become so numb to politics we've essentially given up? Have we decided if we can't understand, trust or influence our politics, at the very least we can ensure it entertains us?

Of course, the truth is more nuanced than that. These candidates may be entertaining with seemingly lightweight backgrounds, but they are not lightweight characters.

Mr Grillo has a long history of political satire and commentary. He used his platform and communication abilities to establish a political party which inspired millions of Italians. That party is stocked with politicians, not comedians, and Mr Grillo himself has since stepped aside from leadership.

While Mr Zelensky's rise is certainly life imitating art, the man himself has a law degree and is a successful businessman. He ran a clean and coherent campaign and has acted sensibly since his election.

Mr Trump revels in the pantomime role slathered upon him by the media and himself, yet he arguably holds one of the most relevant resumes of any US president in recent history.

It is easy to highlight his business and personal failings, but the fact remains he is a well-educated, highly experienced, well-known and effective businessman. His resume stands in stark contrast to many would-be challengers who have spent most of their lives talking about how things should be, without having involving themselves much in the actual doing.

Then there is Mr Johnson. He, too, is well-educated and, despite once being fired as a journalist, he stuck to his career - rising to become an editor. He entered politics and was successful, first as a Conservative MP, then as London's mayor. He has rightly received considerable criticism for his performance over the last three years but to suggest his entertainment value means he has no substance or experience is far from accurate.

While it appears voters are putting entertainment ahead of other factors in elections around the world, it also appears substance and experience still matters. Perhaps what this trend shows is the more access we have to our politicians, the more entertaining we expect them to be.

As yet, no "entertainment candidate'' has risen in New Zealand. Then again, we tend to lag behind much of the world when it comes to trends and patterns. Perhaps our first pantomime prime minister is not so far away.

 

Comments

The other side of the picture is the technocrats who have detailed expertise on policy but are rather lacking in leadership qualities. Theresa May has been talked of as being such a person that voters do not warm to. Perhaps Simon Bridges fits into this category with an exemplary academic background and legal career but people don't warm to him. I think we have had charismatic sharp witted politicians such as Lange who maybe aren't that far removed from the Johnson scenario.

"In just a few weeks, Alexander "Boris'' Johnson, a man best known for his humour, haircut, questionable public utterances and pantomime-like name".
You do know making 'fun' of someones name is bullying don't you?.

 

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