Comment: What politicians can learn from Joey Barton

Joey Barton is keen to start talking politics. Rather than dismissing his views, politicians would do well to learn from his open approach.

By Phil Scullion

What has footballer Joey Barton, long considered a bad-boy, a hothead and a terrible influence, got to say for himself? Well actually, quite a bit.

His eloquent views have attracted over 570,000 followers on Twitter. His main subject? Politics. That's right – politics. Accountability, education and the big society. These are not topics you expect to be raised by a footballer.

To hear these opinions from such an unlikely source is incredibly refreshing. But beyond that inherently superficial response there is also a serious point about political engagement and audience.

Barton has over five times as many Twitter followers as Labour leader Ed Miliband.

It is certainly an odd world we live in where the views of a decent but not extraordinary footballer such as Barton are more interesting to people than those of a potential prime minister.

Social media is not everything, but it does represent a large audience which a comparatively minor celebrity such as Barton has got down to a tee, while the likes of Ed Miliband flounder.

By reaching out to that audience Barton is bringing his political views to a whole different demographic, who may not previously have been interested.

As with all political debate it isn't so much what you say, just the fact that you say it.

Whatever you think of Barton it is a very positive development to have someone from a totally different background out there talking openly and frankly about political issues and actually engaging people who might not normally be interested.

While Londoners were reading Joey Barton's political views in the Evening Standard on the tube home, Ed Miliband was hosting another #AskEdM session on Twitter.

Judging by the nature of the tweets sent his way it was a rather standard, cringeworthy, one-in-100-questions-are-serious exercise.

His answers will no doubt be similar to last time and a bit fake. You can only listen to a politician extolling the virtues of a political allegiance with Cheryl Cole for so long.

This is perhaps one of the lessons our politicians could learn from Joey Barton.

Barton is unquestionably real and wears his personality with pride.

On the contrary Ed Miliband worries about being defined as 'weird' and a decent portion of yesterday's party conference speech was aimed at making him appear normal.

What better way to do that than by showing something of a human side on Twitter?

Secondly, Barton's tweets are honest. These are his views. If you don't like them, well sorry but that's tough.

Now clearly it would be naive in the extreme to think politicians can emulate that entirely, but they can at the very least try.

Who are the most interesting politicians on Twitter? The ones who speak their mind. MPs like Louise Mensch, Tom Watson and Chris Bryant.

But perhaps the final and most telling lesson is the classic cliché not to judge a book by its cover.

On the pitch Barton is an uncompromising player with a disciplinary record to match. He's not set a very good example off the pitch either.

But here is someone who, despite having made many mistakes in his life, has shown an intelligent mature side that seemed unlikely to ever emerge a few years ago. He's certainly not out of the woods but he seems to be positively revelling in the chance to show he has changed and is playing the best football of his career.

Barton's sporting ability has undoubtedly been the reason for the repeated opportunities he has received to reform himself and clean up his act.

If he didn't possess that talent he may well have ended up as just another statistic, a young person from a working class background and broken home who got into trouble and never recovered.

That instead he is growing as a person and demonstrating an interest in the political workings of the world is a testament to the way opportunities can help people turn their lives around.

"If I was a politician I'd be out there speaking to people and working out how I can make things better," said Barton in the Evening Standard yesterday.

Maybe it is time for politicians to start doing just that.

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