On Tuesday, Nick Clegg posed for a selfie and an interview with reality television star Joey Essex.
It was a simple act from a politician eager to engage younger voters. In fact, David Cameron and Ed Miliband will get their turn later in the campaign as Essex interviews all three main leaders for an ITV2 programme.
However, if you were to simply glance at the press this week, you’d be forgiven for thinking that democracy as we know it is about to collapse. And, with all of his talk of “Nick Leg” and the “Liberal Demo-cats”, the person at fault is TOWIE‘s resident idiot.
The Mirror dismissed the whole endeavour as an “interview, if you can call it that”. The Telegraph screamed about the “shameful dumbing-down” of politics. The Guardian went even further, saying the situation portrays “a political system in crisis”.
This is an enormous over-reaction from a media obsessed with tradition. For these institutions, Joey Essex represents everything wrong with a generation disinterested with traditional political campaigning techniques.
However, this underestimates the ability of young people to cut through political bluster. In last week’s televised interviews, both Miliband and Cameron attempted to field questions from notorious interviewer Jeremy Paxman. In both cases, the leaders’ campaign teams would have extensively prepared them on strategies to cope with the interview and, most importantly, how to avoid difficult questions.
To a young audience, savvy with the way in which politics works and tired of it, this has no appeal.
Place Joey Essex in Paxman’s seat, though, and it’s easy to imagine guards being let down. A chat with a television star who has made a living from being a buffoon puts the likes of Clegg out of their comfort zone and more likely to commit a newsworthy slip-up.
Whilst some of the discussion may be banal and vapid, it’s an interesting facility to highlight just how willing leaders are to appeal to the young and whether they can actually appear human outside of the hardcore political arena.
It’s true that Joey Essex is a fool, but it’s clear that politicians think they’ve worked out how to get to the youth – and the only way is, indeed, Essex.