‘People aren’t so impressed by big names’: is the era of celebrity political endorsement over?

<span>Tony Blair with Noel Gallagher at New Labour’s ‘Cool Britannia’ party at No 10 in July 1997.</span><span>Photograph: Rebecca Naden/WPA rota/PA</span>
Tony Blair with Noel Gallagher at New Labour’s ‘Cool Britannia’ party at No 10 in July 1997.Photograph: Rebecca Naden/WPA rota/PA

David Tennant, Colin Firth, Jim Davidson and the late Kenny Everett all signed up to officially support a political party during past British general election campaigns, giving a touch of showbiz pizazz to the daily round of rainy hustings and churlish TV debates. After Tony Blair’s victory in 1997, the pavement in Downing Street was infamously lined with VIPs, from a Gallagher brother to a Mitchell brother (EastEnders’ Ross Kemp), all calling at his celebratory Cool Britannia event.

But the era of the high-profile celebrity political endorsement appears to be behind us as individual social media declarations, together with the complexities that surround divisive issues such as gender politics, climate change and the Middle East conflict, make these relationships more difficult to cement.

The rewards may no longer be worth the effort, according to Anna Soubry, a former minister in the Conservative government who left to lead Change UK, before returning to practise as a barrister.

The days of celebrity endorsements are “long gone,” Soubry said. “It is seen as much more effective now for an ordinary member of the public to speak out, someone with a normal job, like a brickie or a childminder, who says that they are switching sides after years of voting Conservative. When I stood for a seat for The Independent Group [Change UK], I had a letter backing me from Kenneth Clarke, which he said I could use. Well, that was obviously valuable because it was a leading Conservative figure, but I don’t think people are so impressed by big names any more.

“I have already privately supported a couple of Labour candidates on social media, and I am happy to do that publicly if asked. It is much more significant to have someone switching sides.”

Celebrity supporters are still active in this election, with singer Holly Valance lining up behind Reform, and Eric Clapton endorsing the independent Andrew Feinstein, who is standing against Keir Starmer in Holborn and St Pancras. Actor Rob Delaney is supporting Jeremy Corbyn’s independent candidature in Islington.

Singer Tom Gray and Blur’s Dave Rowntree have taken action a step further by actually standing for Labour in Brighton Pavilion and Mid-Sussex respectively. Performers Beverley Knight, James Norton and Jason Manford gave a thumbs-up to Labour’s arts policies last week.

Topical comedian and writer Steve Punt said that much celebrity political support now takes place on social media accounts. “Any entertainer who is political has often already said so online, so their position is well known. Social media has rather removed the point of it all,” said Punt, who is appearing with comedy partner Hugh Dennis in their new stage show We Are Not a Robot in St Albans and Brighton this week.

“In some ways, it can be dangerous if you say something. Carol Vorderman received nasty messages when she came out strongly against the Conservatives. But in other ways, it’s all much less relevant now simply because so much of it is out there. In the past, we didn’t know what celebrities thought. Now we have a much better idea all the time how many famous people think we should vote.”