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As I See It

Admit it Kez, you’ve been bitten by the celebrity bug

Terry smiling headKezia Dugdale will be hoping to charm television viewers as she copes with bugs and beasties in the Australian jungle, though it’s clear she’s opened a can of worms back home.

Apart from the rights and wrongs of her participation in ITV reality show I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here the timing of it being made public was bad enough to prompt some gnashing of teeth, not least in her own party.

It’s fair to say it was the big talking point among Labour members gathered at the Glasgow Science Centre for the unveiling of Ms Dugdale’s successor. A sense of being deserted for another partner was palpable as party officials tried to play down the impact of her decision.

It prompted irate columns and radio phone-ins with members of the public divided over politicians taking part in reality television shows, like taking second jobs. Ms Dugdale rightly points out that taking part in a game show is not a second job, though the principle is surely the same. It requires time off from parliamentary duties, no matter how long that takes and whether or not payment is involved.

I’m not against anyone taking time off their work. Lots of employees take sabbaticals, unpaid leave to do charity work, write a book, and so on. BBC staff do it, and they’re paid by us just like politicians. If it broadens the mind, then why not?

There is now a long list of examples from Nadine Dorries, who preceded Ms Dugdale in the jungle, to Vince Cable and Ed Balls appearing on Strictly Come Dancing. In the search for reasons why Ms Dugdale made the wrong call it has been said that at last Strictly demands the learning of new skills as opposed to surviving a questionable test of endurance of creepy crawlies and fellow contestants.

For her part, Ms Dugdale said she sees it as an “amazing platform to talk about politics and Labour values”. She has admitted it would also be a lucrative payday – another source of discontent for the naysayers – but has not revealed how much she will earn. She said she will donate part of the fee to a charity to help the homeless and will forfeit her parliamentary salary for the duration of her time in the show.

Kezia Dugdale
Kez: loves her job (photo by Terry Murden)

“I’m only away for three weeks. I’m committed to my constituents and I’ll be leaving the jungle to go straight back to parliament,” she said. “I want to do my job as an MSP. This is an opportunity to talk to millions of people about my values and what my party stands for. It’s one I’m going to grasp.”

Ms Dugdale may be taking a somewhat pious view of her reason for accepting ITV’s invitation. Let’s face it, this show is not called “I’m A Celebrity” for nothing. One party activist told me on Saturday that she was an “interesting” choice, given that few television viewers in England will recognise her. This, however, could be a stepping stone to a higher profile, if not in politics then maybe to other TV roles.

If she thinks she’s going to win over the viewers by talking Labour party policy for three weeks she may find herself booking an early flight back to Britain. This show is notorious for its match-making, lurid exhibitionism and bizarre behaviour. That firebrand leftie George Galloway will be best be remembered for his stint in the jungle for purring like a cat at Rula Lenska, not for talking up revolution in the streets.

Where this leaves the Labour party is also a big talker. There were cheers and sympathy for Richard Leonard when he was announced as the new Scottish leader on Saturday. His coronation risked being hijacked by the leak of his predecessor’s plans and he had to face inevitable questions about how he would handle her decision. Despite reports to the contrary, he said he thought suspension was “unlikely”, and so it turned out.

Indignation and anger over the episode was strongest within the party, but it seems a few days of contemplation has allowed the temperature to cool a little and instead there will be an interview with their errant former leader on her return.

The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her deputy John Swinney seemed to be more agreeable towards Ms Dugdale’s game show antics, though they may also be enjoying a moment of schadenfreude as their opponents get in a froth.

It also diverted attention from the row over their own ex-leader-cum-chat-show-host who is no doubt looking for guests to interview. Kezia Dugdale, anyone?


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