Kezia Dugdale's trials and trivialisations are a let down

Written by Mandy Rhodes on 2 December 2017 in Editor's note

Kezia Dugdale has given up on the serious business of politics and reduced it to a cheap sideshow

The TV bosses of I’m a Celebrity, Get me Out of Here are apparently underwhelmed by the performance of former Labour leader Kezia Dugdale. She is, they have reportedly said, a ‘massive let down’ despite her massive fee.

Why are they surprised? The producers wanted political sparks while Dugdale wanted to show politicians are only human. A worthy cause, maybe, but being normal doesn’t make good TV. Unless of course you’re Made in Chelsea…

Her codename in the secret planning for her appearance in the programme was, apparently, ‘Spice’ but her distinctly bland contribution suggest she has either had nothing to say or that anything too worthy has ended up on the cutting-room floor.

And with the first eliminations underway, it isn’t just Dugdale’s role in politics that is now in question, it is also her time in the jungle.

She said she has gone on the show to use it as a platform to share Labour values with the nation. What nonsense. She is endorsing a light entertainment programme which fundamentally rests on the principles of humiliation, divisiveness, bullying and titillation. In being seduced by the lure of celebrity, Dugdale has given up on the serious business of politics and reduced it to a cheap sideshow.

And on the rare occasions, amid the fluff of celebrity and sheer mundanity of jungle life, when the stigma of mental health and the serious question of social class have been raised, providing the perfect opportunity for Dugdale to get on her political soapbox, she has silently poked about with the campfire.

I don’t know what Dugdale’s current perception is of her place in the world but she had a serious and worthwhile job that she was encouraged, supported, helped and elected to do and right now, she’s not doing it. What she is doing is giving legitimacy to so many of the inequities that she proclaims to be against.

No one can seriously argue that they can take the deliberate divisiveness at the core of ‘I’m a Celebrity’ and somehow make something better of it. The most contestants can hope for is to hang onto their clothes and their dignity and perhaps show a more appealing side of their character than the self-serving one exposed in their agreeing to take part in the first place.

To some, it is just a harmless TV show and for those that enjoy it on that basis, there is no real moral dilemma. But for those who campaigned tirelessly for Dugdale to get elected, who rightly feel horrified at her apparent abandonment of principle, it is a betrayal. One child abuse survivor is so angry he is staging a vigil outside the parliament until she returns.

Dugdale promised a new politics, she campaigned against injustice, called for an end to politicians having two jobs and consistently harangued the First Minister to ‘get on with the day job’.

She has described herself previously as an ‘accidental politician’ but she neither fell into politics nor into the jungle. It all takes some planning and guile. And it would be naïve to think otherwise.

Some argue that she deserves a break. And, yes, she clearly took over the party reins at a difficult time and for that she won plaudits. However, she proved, ultimately, to be just another in a long line of Scottish Labour leaders who had stepped up to the plate out of a sense of duty rather than a desire or natural ability to lead.

She presided over electoral catastrophe and made bad judgements. She ill-advisedly publicised her view that Jeremy Corbyn should not be elected UK leader and gave no notice of her decision to quit, even to her closest allies. And amid an acrimonious leadership contest, her legacy to the new leader, Richard Leonard, was to overshadow his first days in office with questions about his authority and her appearance in the jungle.

Dugdale has taken her colleagues for fools and Leonard should, rightly, feel aggrieved.

She has said she will be back in time for the Scottish budget, as if that was some act of magnanimity. But in her absence, the parliament has already debated the domestic violence bill, had the Stage 1 vote on getting more women onto public boards, discussed suicide prevention and responded to the Tory UK budget without a Scottish Labour party finance spokesperson – because that is she.

Why has she done it?

One theory has it that in separating from her former fiancée and a potentially costly defamation case pending, she needs a financial cushion. But if it is about the money, at what cost to her reputation?

If nothing else, Dugdale prided herself on being a role model for young women. But what’s her message now? That you ask the electorate to put their faith in you and reward them by walking off the job to nip off to Oz to appear in a programme with third-rate celebrities? You take part in ‘Bushtucker trials’ that ostensibly involve eating the genitalia of marsupials, all the while being filmed for national television with the ‘best bits’ of bikini-clad campers edited for the purpose of newspaper features headlined ‘sexiest shower scenes’? And having thus rebranded yourself as a ‘celebrity’, you take home a fat fee for your troubles? Some role model.

Undoubtedly, Dugdale feels she was treated badly within Labour – although I am much less clear why - but that doesn’t justify what she has done. She says she will not stand down as an MSP and plans to stand again next time too.

Dugdale wanted to show that politicians are only human but all she has confirmed is that they are in it for themselves. Surely, she should now wonder whether it’s time to say, ‘I’m a politician, get me out of here’.

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