Sir Michael Caine and the imperative of celebrity endorsement
Some will squirm, some will be repulsed, and some will want to vomit.
Some will be delighted, some deeply impressed, and some won’t have a clue who the old fogey is.
Whatever the reaction, the reality is that celebrity endorsement works: advertising agencies pay millions to have the face (or torsos) of
The Liberal Democrats have John Cleese.
The SNP have Sir Sean Connery.
And Labour have Jesus.
So for the Conservatives to get Sir Michael Caine really is quite a coup.
He is, after all, an Oscar-winner, a knight of the realm and a national institution.
The Tories used to have Jim Davidson, but he was really only good for the odd fund-raiser
And Leslie Crowther was well past his sell-by date.
But neither brought in the votes.
Tony Blair tried to put sparkle into his ‘Cool Britannia’ fad by being photographed with Damon Albarn, and Noel Gallagher. And he also recruited Delia Smith.
Gosh. There's a coup.
Not to mention Prunella Scales, Maureen Lipman, Richard Wilson, Eddie Izzard, Beverley Knight and Lord Attenborough.
And Sir Alex Ferguson was sufficiently impressed by Tony Blair in 2005 to declare: “This Labour government has led this country into a period of unparalleled prosperity.”
Wonder what he’d say now.
Richard Dawkins endorses the Liberal Democrats.
That explains a lot.
Much of it is, of course, about self promotion, mutual congratulation, ego boosting and career enhancement.
But Sir Michael Caine has absolutely nothing to gain from endorsing David Cameron’s ‘National Citizen Service’.
Indeed, it might even cost him a job or two and even a few friends, for luvvie-land is not known to be Tory-friendly territory.
Sir Michael is, quite possibly, the most significant celebrity endorsement the Conservative Party has ever won. Not least because he is not remotely ‘showbiz’: he is utterly straightforward, approachable and down-to-earth; the sort of bloke you’d happily have a pint with in a pub. His mother was a charlady and his father a porter in a fish market; he was brought up in the Elephant & Castle, a distinctly working-class area of South London, and managed to lift himself out of poverty thanks to ‘a loving family, a loving father and a (grammar-school) education’.
David Cameron needs precisely this sort of quality celebrity at his side, not least because neither he nor George Osborne (nor, indeed, many of his front bench) exude the common touch.
He lost David Davis to the back benches.
Contrast Sir Michael and David Cameron with Tony Blair and Sir
Which they dutifully did.
So Sir Ian kept on singing Mr Blair’s praises.
But Sir Michael Caine has come out for the Conservatives with no agenda at all.
It is the sort of anointing which politicians have always sought.
Because the present cult of celebrity is really only a postmodern development of the Jewish cultus and priestly anointing.
Tutankhamun was anointed by Horus; Solomon was anointed by Zadok; Charlemagne was crowned by Pope Leo III; Tony Blair assiduously (and successfully) courted Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor; and Gordon Brown has bent over backwards to win the support Cardinal Keith O’Brien (he failed) and to bring Pope Benedict XVI to these shores (he succeeded, but His Holiness was too shrewd to be used as an electoral prop).
No-one really bothers any more with the Archbishop of Canterbury.
While prophets and priests used to sway the throng, now we have the idolatry of actors, models, footballers, and popstars. While people used to drink deeply of the riches of sacred Scripture, now they imbibe the profane sound-bites and instant pap of magazines, newspapers and the internet. While they used to attend their temples of worship assiduously, now they make daily offerings to the cuboid box or flat-screen panel in the corner of their lounge. Where there used to be industry, authenticity and profundity, there is instead apathy, trivia and dumbing down.
But this is the spirit of the age.
Politicians cannot change it. If they wish to remain relevant, they must embrace the idols of the masses and communicate in the vernacular.
And David Beckham speaks more eloquently than a thousand politicians.
Not with his mouth, of course.
But Sir Michael Caine opens his mouth, and he is everything that David Cameron is not and can never be.
And that is worth quite a few thousand votes.
All he needs now is Lady Gaga.