Belfast Telegraph

Eilis O'Hanlon: The Tories unveil their secret weapon for holding Arundel and South Downs in the general election... James Nesbitt's supporting the Labour candidate

Voting for someone just because that actor who was in that thing you liked says to do so is as daft as only appreciating the work of artists you agree with politically, argues Eilis O'Hanlon

James Nesbitt
James Nesbitt
Hugh Grant
Ant McPartlin
Eilis O'Hanlon

By Eilis O'Hanlon

Type a certain Northern Irish actor's name into Google and one of the most popular searches suggested in the drop-down menu is the question: Is James Nesbitt a Catholic or a Protestant?

The funny thing is that nobody cares. The down-to-earth Cold Feet star, who lives in England these days, is widely regarded back home as one of the good guys, whose political and religious identity is his own business. He's in that special category with George Best, or Rory McIlroy: everyone just likes him.

So, the natural reaction on hearing that he's decided to get stuck into the dog's dinner that is the General Election - and on social media, of all places - is to exclaim in despair: please God, no, not James Nesbitt as well?

Other famous names might fall into the fatal trap of believing their own publicity, but, surely, Nesbitt has too much sense to think his intervention in the most divisive, bitter election campaign in years will help?

Mercifully, celebrities in Northern Ireland have tended to steer clear of that sort of nonsense. They might make pronouncements on particular issues, such as integrated schooling, or wonder aloud in interviews why everyone in Norn Iron can't just get along.

Nesbitt himself even came up with some well-meaning proposal recently for a "new union of Ireland", which apparently wouldn't be Irish unity, or a British union as traditionally understood, but something fresh which would overcome all the tensions of the past.

It made absolutely no sense, but even that didn't dent his halo.

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Hugh Grant

The man can do no wrong. Making a video to urge people to vote for a particular candidate feels like a less sure-footed move.

James Nesbitt has decided to come out, nonetheless, to support the Labour Party in the West Sussex constituency of Arundel and South Downs, which couldn't sound posher if it tried.

His video probably won't help much, considering the Tories were more than 20,000 votes ahead there at the last election.

That's like expecting a late surge to knock out the DUP's Jeffrey Donaldson in Lagan Valley. But at least, his fans will say, Nesbitt's heart is in the right place.

Like most people from Northern Ireland, nationalist and unionist alike, he's against a hard Brexit and clearly wants to do everything he can to avoid that happening.

His way of doing so may be simplistic, because there are only two people who can be Prime Minister come Christmas - Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn - and it's difficult to argue that the effects of even the hardest exit from the EU would be more damaging than putting a Marxist who's spent his entire life siding with the enemies of his own country, including the Provos, into Number 10. But, fair enough, we get it: Brexit is a worry.

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Ant McPartlin

The truth is, though, that there's no evidence celebrity endorsements make the slightest bit of difference at the polls. If anything, they generally work to the advantage of the other side.

In the 2016 US presidential election, Hollywood came out en masse for Hillary Clinton. Her campaign rallies turned into Showbiz Central.

The Democratic candidate still lost, partly because Donald Trump was able to exploit this show of unanimity by luvvies to pose as the underdog, the outsider.

All the celebrities banging on right now about climate change are having an equally opposite effect to the one intended. The whiff of hypocrisy is too overpowering.

It's simply impossible to ignore that Emma Thompson pontificates about the evil of fossil fuels while flying across the Atlantic more frequently than normal people pop down to the shop for milk.

Mark Ruffalo, star of the multi-billion dollar-earning Avengers movies, has even been calling in recent days for an "economic revolution", arguing that "capitalism has failed us".

Ruffalo has an estimated net worth of $30m, an amount he made from being part of one of the most cut-throat industries on the planet. He's entitled to throw out the cake of capitalism, but not to eat it at the same time.

James Nesbitt hasn't gone full Hugh Grant yet. He's not out campaigning door-to-door, or giving earnest interviews to Channel Four News.

Be thankful for small mercies.

The fact that the Broughshane native's opinions have turned out to be so utterly predictable is still saddening.

Why are celebrities always "Lefties" (to borrow a word that Boris Johnson has been criticised for using)?

They think with a collective hive mind because they live in a bubble and only ever hang out at film premieres and dinner parties alongside other cosseted famous people who see the world exactly as they do.

What dull conversations they must have. Isn't Brexit awful? How can anyone vote for Trump? Why doesn't the Government just do what that nice Swedish schoolgirl says and make air travel so expensive that only rich people like us can afford it?

What's hilarious is that they think they're being radical, while literally parroting what everyone around them is saying.

They're not challenging anything. They're the ultimate conformists.

James Nesbitt is foolish for taking the risk of being lumped in with those walking cliches with their matching Vote Labour and Extinction Rebellion badges.

Of course, there must be plenty of celebrities who don't go along with the herd. They've just learned to keep their less-fashionable opinions to themselves, because it's not worth the trouble.

Ant McPartlin, of I'm A Celebrity fame, found that out to his cost when he admitted voting Tory for the first time after the last election.

Unfortunately, some on the Right are now hitting back by boycotting certain performers if they insult Brexiteers, or declare proudly that they're backing Jeremy Corbyn, because he's promised everyone their own magic unicorn farm, or whatever the latest electoral offer from Labour happens to be.

Only being open to the work of artists with whom you agree politically is every bit as ridiculous as deciding to vote for a particular candidate just because that actor who was in that thing you liked says to do it.

It's better to appreciate actors and pop stars and stand-up comedians, even the most tiresome and politically correct among them, for what they do well and try to ignore their incessant nagging.

If only they would return the compliment by realising what a shame it is to put up barriers between different sections of their audience in the name of courting favour with voguish opinion.

Doing so reveals that, while what comes out of their mouths when doing the day job may be dazzlingly brilliant, their opinions about politics all too often come from a part of the body much further south.

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