Sheridan heads for self-destruct

Sarah McDonald is less than enthused by Solidarity's man as a Big Brother housemate

“The egos have landed” was Davina McCall’s opening line to the six million viewers who tuned in to watch the launch of Celebrity big brother on Friday January 2. Among those occupying the Big brother house this year is one of the left’s biggest egos.

It should have come as no surprise when the News of the World broke the story on Sunday December 14, that Tommy Sheridan was to appear in this year’s show. After all, it seems in keeping with his ego-driven journey towards political self-destruction. Not that the decision of Sheridan is massively politically significant. It does, however, provide the rather tasteless icing on the cake in terms of the farce that the left in Scotland has been playing out over the last few years. Of course, much of this was embarrassingly done in the full glare of the media. So in this aspect at least, we have some consistency.

It is not only Sheridan’s ego (one largely cultivated by his former comrades in the Scottish Socialist Party) that is behind this latest decision. The £100,000 fee he is receiving for taking part in the Channel Four show, by his own admission, is a massive incentive. He tells the Daily Record: “What student wouldn’t be attracted to significant earnings to meet those essential costs” (Tommy is currently studying for a law degree at Strathclyde University).

Despite the criticism from his Solidarity comrades who advised him not to appear, Sheridan is of the opinion, “Why not? … It’s an honest offer of employment. I’m not crossing a picket line. I’m not hurting anyone.” It appears to matter little what his comrades in Solidarity think anyway: the organisation is little more than a platform for the cult of Tommy - and he knows it.

I would not have thought there are many on the left who would view this as a smart political move, though I imagine that many of his former comrades in the International Socialist Movement kicked back with a beer on Friday night, eagerly anticipating a train wreck.

The Sheridans will make good money out of the show and surrounding publicity, but at what price? George Galloway, a much more savvy politician than Sheridan, lost a little gravitas after wearing a leotard and pretending to be a cat on the show back in 2006, again with little regard for what his Respect comrades had to say.

If the last few years have taught the left in Scotland anything, it should have been that all publicity is not, in fact, good publicity. Sheridan’s comrades will doubtlessly be hoping he does not do anything too humiliating to further discredit his and their reputations, though his La Toya Jackson impersonation on Tuesday night’s show was truly cringeworthy.

Of course, it is not just the publicity from the show itself that Sheridan has to worry about; his appearance on Big brother has been front page news in the Scottish tabloid press. At first the Daily Record’s coverage was fairly supportive agreeing with Tommy’s ‘why not?’ approach and giving Tommy’s wife Gail a column for the duration of the show. Gail is a devout fan of Big brother (who’d have thought it?) and has been able to give her husband advice on what to expect.

On Saturday her biggest concern appeared to be that he would stop dressing smartly away from her watchful eye, but by Monday the Daily Record’s front page headline read: “I begged Tommy: don’t do it - but Sheridan ignored his wife Gail’s pleas”. In her exclusive to the paper she claims she had told Tommy that she did not care how much he was paid: he should not do it, as she was fearful as to how he would be portrayed in the edit. Evidently her objections were not strong enough to cause her to turn down the Record’s ‘Diary’ column.

The rest of the Scottish red tops have been consistently more critical. Ironically, considering the notoriety they have given Sheridan, the News of the World implied that he is not famous enough - La Toya Jackson and Verne Troyer have no idea who he is. The Sunday Mail made much of his work-out and grooming ritual with the caption “Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the vainest Trot of all?” The Mirror (Sunday Mirror, that is) complained that Sheridan was preaching about socialism and kitchen hygiene - not that it matters, as apparently no one can understand a word he says due to his Glaswegian accent.

Tommy is initially proving fairly unpopular; the crowds booed him into the house and at the start of the week the bookies had him down as the first one out of it. In Gail’s opinion this is because “he has already said he is anti-monarchist, Scottish and a socialist, so there is no way the English will vote for him”. Well, that’s the English written off as a bunch of royalist, chauvinistic reactionaries then. In truth, he is probably unpopular because he comes across as loud and a bit awkward.

However, he has been spared eviction this week. Monday night’s task to determine who was up for the boot took the form of a variety show where all the contestants had to give a short performance showing the talents for which they are famous. Give the man his due, Tommy Sheridan gave a typically rousing speech that would have gone down well at any anti-war demo. His speech was well received by the housemates and doubtless by many in the viewing public.

As for the show itself, it is shaping up to be, well … dull. Nevertheless, viewing figures are averaging at around 5.5 million.

After the Shilpa Shetty/Jade Goody fiasco of the last Celebrity big brother two years ago and in the wake of the moral hysteria surrounding Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand, Channel Four has warned the celebrities not to be too controversial. According to The Guardian’s blog, the contestants have been coached by the show’s producers on good manners and behaviour and had been advised that if they had not seen the ‘incident’ from two years ago “they should go and watch it on You Tube and then not repeat it”.

Of course, controversy, cat fights, cat impersonations and generally watching people humiliate themselves is the reason for the show’s mass appeal. The only minor controversy thus far, in terms of public complaints, is that black, gangsta rap artist Coolio used the word ‘nigger’. He has also been called up by Sheridan, according to Tuesday’s Daily Record, for “using derogatory rapper language to describe women”. The Record reckons he could be of use to the show producers by keeping controversial language at bay. Good to know Sheridan’s doing his bit to protect the overly sensitive from being offended my mindless, meaningless drivel. Perhaps Big brother can spice things up a bit by throwing someone from the Sheridan court case into the house - that might lead to some offensive language.

The celebrities themselves are not the most interesting people. La Toya, famous for being a Jackson, comes across as damaged and … well, a bit of an idiot. Lucy Pinder is famous for having nice tits. Actor Verne Troyer (Mini-Me in the Austin Powers films) is, according to his ex, “self-obsessed” - as is the most expensive contestant, Ulrika Jonsson (receiving  a fee of £175,000). She did, however, provide the most amusing moment of the show so far when, in a conversation with Troyer, she ostensibly compared having back pain with being 2 feet 8 inches tall. One-hit wonder Coolio espouses meaningless rubbish, annoys the other housemates and seems to think he still has a music career.

Other contestants include; former presenter of The word Terry Christian, Shameless actress Tina Malone, former Sugarbabe Mutya Buena, former boy band A1 member Ben Adams and former Liberty X member Michelle Heaton.

In short, if you are thinking of watching this year’s Celebrity big brother you might find it more enjoyable and stimulating to read a newspaper, watch reruns of comedy quiz shows on Dave or stab yourself repeatedly in the eye with a sharp implement.