All hail Georgia ‘Toff’ Toffolo, Queen of the Jungle! After 22 days in the Australian wilderness, the Made in Chelsea actress(?) has emerged triumphant, with more than 10 million people cheering her home at the end.
The 2017 series, which concluded last night, was dominated by media discussion about the presence of Boris Johnson’s dad, Stanley, in the line-up. In the end, Stanley made it to the third week of the competition, coming across as a fairly sensible, paternal figure with many of his son’s mannerisms but little of the bravura bluster. For all the talk about how Stanley could refresh the British public’s cooling infatuation with the blond barnetted Foreign Secretary, he ended up doing little to stoke interest in the Johnson clan. But, of course, Stanley isn’t his son, and if the bods at Conservative HQ were sitting up at night watching I’m a Celeb, it won’t have been the 77-year-old former MEP who caught their eye. It will have been Toff.
Toff’s success reiterates the immutable fact that the British public are bizarrely attached to posh people. The similarities to Stanley’s son are striking: blonde, intelligent but gaffe prone, and with strong opinions on most subjects, at times she seems like Boris in a bikini. She has long exhibited her social conservatism (take, for example, her iconic horror on Made in Chelsea when she found out that her on-off boyfriend Sam had slept with someone in her bed) and even works as an events manager for Tory-leaning think tank Parliament Street. Add that to the fact she’s a qualified lawyer with over a million Instagram followers, and you wonder whether a plan might be hatched to parachute the 23-year-old into a nice Home Counties seat when the opportunity of an election next arises.
Whether or not Toff is truly a politician in waiting remains to be seen, but it shows that Labour cannot be complacent about its millennial support. The existential question posed of the Labour party in 2017 is whether their success this year has been a product of their own strength, or their opposition’s weakness. On the narrow scale of modern conservatism, Toff is much closer to Boris than to May (indeed she is probably closer to Corbyn than the Prime Minister) and that is something that still holds an inexplicable appeal. Around 25 percent of the audience for I’m a Celeb are aged between 16 and 34, which is around 10 points higher than you’d expect in its timeslot. With X Factor ratings this year sinking towards 3 million, the 10 million strong audience for I’m a Celeb looks ever better, and is now Strictly’s sole competitor for the heart of the nation. Millions of millennials getting behind a Tory: not what you’d expect from 2017.
At its core, I’m a Celebrity is basically a form of mob justice perpetrated against privilege. But it is also a uniquely British performance of humility, and those who can endure it are rebaptised in the public imagination. Unlike other formats which have originated on our shores and gone on to have widespread international appeal (X Factor, Strictly, Britain’s Got Talent), I’m a Celeb has struggled with global audiences. Only Germany seems to share Britain’s masochistic delight; the US version was dumped in 2009 after just two series, whilst it took until 2015 for the Aussies to pick it up (and bizarrely Freddie Flintoff won that series).
After having been draped in snakes and coated in fish guts, how much fear could crossbench heckling possibly engender? What is an election campaign compared to Celebrity Cyclone? But with both parties already dreaming up strategies for the next election, whenever it should come, there are lessons to be learned from the jungle. The Conservative message is better carried with charisma than competence, whilst Labour HQ would do well to remember that British young people are not single-minded in their devotion to Mr Corbyn. Reality TV might be no great incubator for political ideas, but it can be an intriguing bellweather.