Voices: From Dawn Butler’s rap to Suella’s viral clip, this ‘TikTok election’ isn’t working

Society has overused the word “cringe”, to the point that it doesn’t really mean anything anymore. Wearing an ugly T-shirt? You’re “cringe”. Displaying enthusiasm about a thing you like? You know that’s “cringe”, don’t you? Pointing out that the word “cringe” isn’t grammatically correct when used as an adjective, and it should instead be “cringe-worthy” or at least “cringey”? Apparently, I’m cringe now.

Luckily for us, we still have people in the UK who are willing to step up and show us what it truly means to be cringe. Unluckily for us, they’re the people who run our political establishments and make our laws. And since it’s election season, you can rest assured that they have taken their cringe(worthy) antics up to a whole new level, using the magic of social media.

Last week, Labour MP Dawn Butler posted a TikTok video which featured her rapping about her party’s projected success to the tune of “21 Seconds” by So Solid Crew. Whatever you’re imagining when I say the phrase “Labour MP rapping”, please be assured that the video is 10 times worse.

Butler goes on a walkabout in her northwest London constituency wearing sunglasses. She raps with a pensioner. The pensioner is also wearing sunglasses. The video would be bad enough if Butler’s rapping was on beat, but of course, it isn’t.

Not to be outdone, Suella Braverman has released her own TikTok video, in which she struts around her constituency to DJ Fedde Le Grand’s 2006 hit “Let Me Think About It” as supporters wave signs in the background.

It is mercifully shorter than Butler’s effort, and doesn’t feature any rapping, which is worth a lot of points in itself. However, it still somehow manages to be the more sinister of the two, not least because it opens with Braverman mouthing along to audio taken from a different viral video, which briefly creates the impression that the former home secretary has somehow become American since we last heard from her – a chilling prospect.

Rishi Sunak recently made headlines for saying that he was not opposed to assisted dying, and after seeing these videos, neither am I. Kill. Me. Now.

In all seriousness, though, who told these people that trying to go viral on TikTok was an option for them? If you’re a politician, your social media activity should begin and end with a Facebook post written by a 22-year-old intern – anything more than that is overkill of the highest order.

If you told me that Butler and Braverman were trying to lose the election for their respective parties, I’d find it very difficult to argue otherwise. Labour is on track for a landslide victory, but if they suddenly dropped to third in the polls as a result of this I wouldn’t be surprised. A rap video? You’d lose fewer votes if you released a snuff film.

It isn’t just UK politicians who are trying (and failing) to get down with the kids on social media. Our American cousins aren’t faring much better, as 81-year-old Joe Biden has seemingly decided in his twilight years to become a TikTok influencer. Videos on Biden’s account see him using internet slang, playing viral songs, and leaning into his “Dark Brandon” persona – a tongue-in-cheek meme that reimagines the president as a much cooler, edgier version of himself who dunks on Donald Trump with aplomb. Will it spare us a Trump presidency come November? Probably not – but at least most of us won’t have to deal with it, as we will have cringed ourselves into a singularity by then,

It’s worth noting that Biden is doing all of this even after signing a law that could see the app banned if it isn’t sold by its Chinese owners by the end of the year. I’m aware that’s extremely hypocritical of him, and I’m all for free speech in principle, but if it spares us any more dancing Tories then I will happily put those principles aside.

At this point, politicians should be banned from social media. They should stick to the things they’re good at – awkward interviews with hostile BBC journalists, and shouting over each other in TV debates that nobody watches. I don’t need to know if Keir Starmer has “rizz”. I don’t want to see Sunak pretend to know what the “Skibidi Toilet” meme is.

Perhaps if politicians wanted to connect with young people, they could introduce policies that actually appeal to them, instead of sabotaging their futures at every turn. No amount of viral dancing is going to make up for sky-high university fees, ludicrous national service policies, or the fact that it’s impossible for anybody born after 1970 to afford a house.

TikTok is not their world. TikTok is a place for people much younger than you or me, who have never heard of Braverman and Butler, to gather and speak in slang so impenetrable that it may as well be from another dimension. Politicians have already ruined everything else for young people – don’t let them ruin that, too.