If it’s true what they say about being able to judge any age by its heroes then we really are stuffed. They used to be people we looked up to; brighter, braver, more gifted than ourselves. Then, suddenly, it all changed. There was a brief period in which our heroes were no better than us. Now we seem to be looking for people we can actively sneer at.
Take Joey Essex. Nice lad. Perfectly pleasant. But famous and – by most standards – fabulously wealthy at 24 not just despite having no obvious talent, but very possibly because he’s thought to be so thick he makes the dining-room doorknob look like Socrates.
Now they’re getting him to make a TV programme about politics in the middle of certainly the most closely fought, arguably the most important, general election in a generation. Joey Essex, who thinks Parliament is that big castle at the end of the Mall with the flag up when the Queen’s around. Joey Essex, who is said to have a £70,000 watch but can’t tell the time (“I did learn once, but I forgot – anyway, you don’t wear a watch to tell the time”).
Joey Essex, who couldn’t tell the difference between Gordon Brown and Gordon Ramsay, is in there, ahead of the Paxmans and the Humphrys, hobnobbing with the party leaders and giving us his take on the election. If he can remember their names.
It’s not the end of western civilisation but it does make you think al-Qaeda might have a point. Easy to scoff.
Step back a bit, though, and you can see why you might think it’s a good idea. Lots of people are turned off by politics, the young especially. They don’t understand what’s going on, feel their lives are being run by a closed shop
of politicians and journalists who just talk with, and shout at, each other in what amounts to a foreign language.
They don’t even bother to vote – fewer than half the 18- to 24-year-olds did so in the last election and only 55% are
registered to vote.
Who better than Joey Essex to engage them in the political process? Reality TV shows like The Only Way Is Essex and I’m a Celebrity have made him arguably more famous than Clegg, Miliband or Farage. He’s got more than three million followers on Twitter, for goodness’ sake, three times as many as David Cameron. And there’s a virtue in starting from scratch, being a blank page. And, let’s face it, no page is blanker than Joey Essex, as he cheerfully admits. “I haven’t a clue what it’s all about. I’m not particularly clever but lots of young people like me don’t know those really big words and stuff, know what I mean?”
Besides, I’ve a theory he’s not as thick as he makes out (we reality TV stars have a feel for these things). He can’t really think the world was created by Richard and Judy, that Guy Fawkes died on the cross, or any of the countless other Joey-isms can he?
When I met him, at the start of his political journey, he seemed pretty sharp as well as personable. He’s richer, not to mention younger and better looking than me, and probably you. Who’s the fool here?
He had already started at the shallow end, with a Monster Raving Loony. “I wanted to meet someone, not low exactly, but not a clever one. He was great. He wasn’t clever with all his words and that. He was easy to get along with – obviously, he’s a loony”.
Things were looking good. The more main-stream political parties were falling over themselves to make space in their leaders’ schedules for him to rack up cred with the “Yoof ”. The Labour leader, Ed Miliband, was miles ahead of the pack. He’d already had Joey round to one of his garden parties, even before the programme had been mooted, and Joey was looking forward to meeting him again. “He’s a nice guy. Didn’t give me no negatives. Just a normal, friendly man trying to rule the world.
Well, maybe just this country,” he said, after a moment. “They’re not trying to rule all the world, are they?”I have to say he did seem genuinely unsure.
Nick Clegg gave him a real scoop. It was after Joey had found out that the party was not called the Liberal DemoCATS and that the leader himself was not called Nick Legg. “I didn’t know what to say to him but I just rocked up and started a conversation – I’m quite clever, aren’t I?
“He was quite an honest person, I must admit. He did actually say to me that he don’t reckon he’s gonna win this election.” Joey was understandably proud of this admission. So much so, he returned to it a few minutes later. “Yeah. I got something out of him. What was it again?”
Joey was less excited about meeting Nigel Farage, partly because, as he put it, “I dunno who he is.” But he rather liked him and, it seems, the feeling was reciprocated. “A very jolly man,” was Joey’s verdict. “And he says he wants to go to the Sugar Hut [the Brentwood nightclub that features in Towie] with me”.
Joey was not impressed by Farage’s fashion sense – that coat! – and thought all the party leaders were dowdy and need to up their fashion game. “They need to do like me and start tweeting their outfits and that. Then everybody’s looking at you and saying, ‘Oh My God, he looks cool.’ I think that’s where you can get big votin’ from – fashion!”