10 of the best TV politicians

As Britain prepares to go to the polls, we highlight the TV politicians whose name you may wish was on the ballet paper...

Call one little general election and suddenly our screens are chock-a-block with politicians, each one of them sounding disturbingly like love hounds pleading with us to forgive their lying, cheating ways. When it all gets too much – and it probably already has – take solace in your box set collection and remind yourself that not all politicians found on the telly are torture to watch.

Here are ten of the best politicial characters you are going to find on the small screen…

Josiah Bartlet – The West Wing

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In my world, liberal is not a swear word. You find me a tree and I will hug it while my heart bleeds into the bark. It is, of course, true that The West Wing began during the Clinton presidency. It was under the rule of George Bush, though, where my true love affair with President Jed Bartlet began.

Political reality in the United States at the time was in stark contrast to that of The West Wing. President Bartlet was a Nobel Prize-winning man of true intelligence. Along with his brain power he brought grace and a sense of deep morality to the office. While not without his character flaws, it was always clear that President Bartlet and his crew of charismatic advisors had the most virtuous of intentions.

Even when we know that Bartlet had lied to the electorate about the state of his health, we trust he didn’t do so with ill intensions. To make sure that we stayed on his side, the man of morals graciously accepts punishment for his sins before returning to office all the stronger.

Once a week, during some of the darkest days for a liberal leaning American, watching President Bartlet in the White House was akin to reading of an Arthurian Camelot.

Boss Hogg and Rosco P. Coltrane – Dukes Of Hazzard

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The good old boys may have been in trouble since the day they were born, but perhaps that is less shocking once you consider that Boss Hogg was the law. The tyrant of Hazzard County may have dressed like Colonel Sanders’ portly cousin, but Hogg’s hunger was for power and influence rather than chicken.

Boss Hogg wore many white hats in the town, from bar owner to county commissioner, but he knew that if the town was truly going to dance to his tune he needed an accomplice on the inside. In an area of the United States where even the dog catcher is elected, all the Boss needed was a puppet whose strings he could pull all the way to an elected office. His brother-in-law, Rosco P. Coltrane, was just the perfect mix of gullible and loyal to be perfect for the position as Sheriff of Hazzard County.

Part of the appeal of both Boss Hogg and Rosco is that, while both are clearly corrupt, neither are drawn as being fully bad people. Bo and Luke Duke were themselves not afraid to bend the law half a dozen times an episode. Even Uncle Jesse had been an illegal moonshine runner.

You wouldn’t want Boss Hogg to be running your town, but watching him attempt to rule somebody else’s sure was fun.

Laura Roslin – Battlestar Galactica

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What is not to frakkin love about Laura Roslin? In Battlestar Galactica, she is one of those rare leaders that didn’t seek out power but had it thrust upon her. How they handle such a sudden granting of power is what separates the great from the runners up.

Having held the position of Secretary of Education under President Adar, Laura Roslin was not a complete stranger to political office in the Twelve Colonies. Yet, with her hold on her position dangling by a thread at the time of the Cylon attack on the Colonies, she could hardly ever have imaged that she would one day become President Roslin.  Nonetheless, a fortunately timed trip out of town at the time of the Cylon attacks left Roslin the highest ranking political figure still alive.

Fresh from learning of her own cancer diagnosis, she could have been forgiven for deciding to bow to pressure and hand over all powers to the Colonial military. Instead, she answered the call and turned her civilian starship into Colonial One. This ship became her base to fight for the protection and rights of those very citizens.

Flying by the seat of her pants for the initial period of her presidency, Roslin isn’t afraid to go up against Bill Adama and other military heavyweights to prove her competency. Not only was she willing to risk her reputation, but her own freedom when she felt it was required to keep the fleet moving in, what she felt to be, the best direction.

Even in the face of political defeat, Roslin wasn’t about to let a little thing like no longer being president get in the way of her fighting for the survival of the human race. What more could you ask for in a leader when you are surrounded by frakkin toasters?

Mayor Quimby – The Simpsons

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“Diamond Joe” Quimby might not be corrupt, but he is sure drawn that way! Seriously, if any real life politician was known to do even one of the things Quimby has gotten away with, there would be riots. Then again, if any father was fully like Homer Simpson there would, no doubt, be a few questions from social services. Why let any sense of reality get in the way of having a good belly laugh?

Mayor Quimby has been guilty of all sorts, from embezzlement to using tax money to pay hit men, and still the voters come back for more. Not that who anybody votes for in Springfield really matters, because Quimby is not above a bit of ballot rigging when things get tough on the campaign trail.  Then, to top it all off, he can barely even pronounce the name of the town!

Reportedly based on the late Ted Kennedy, his mock Boston accent adds extra comedy to each of the absurd lines Quimby comes out with during his never-ending campaigning.  All of which are so much fun to watch, even after all these years. Just be glad he isn’t your town’s mayor.

Tommy Carcetti – The Wire

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Tommy Carcetti is a prime example of what made The Wire such a great show.  When he enters the show in season three, Baltimore is a city desperately in need of help. The politicians are as morally corrupt as the corner drug dealers and there is no light on the horizon.  Rather than riding in on his white horse and blinding them all with his virtuous light, Carcetti’s character is drawn to have as many rough edges as smooth.

Tommy Carcetti is a good man that honestly wants to bring about a better Baltimore.  He is, at heart, a politician, though, and he isn’t afraid to manipulate even his friends if they stand in the way of his ambitions. Outwardly a family man, he can’t resist the temptation of an attractive female. He spins the truth and screws around and does it with such style it would have made JFK jealous.

Played with such finesse by Aidan Gillen, any visions of Queer As Folk  fade and are replaced with Vote Carcetti placards.

Harriet Jones – Doctor Who

Now, this is a woman who is really not for turning! First introduced to the Ninth Doctor after the Slitheen have infiltrated government, she never forgets her encounter. At first she may appear to be a mild mannered backbench MP, but something is awakened inside when she has to command the Doctor to launch a missile in order to prevent nuclear war. Sure enough, when she runs into the Doctor again, this time the Tenth Doctor, she has risen to the office of Prime Minister.

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Flashing her identity card at everybody she meets, Harriet Jones clearly doesn’t see herself as more important than any other person. That doesn’t stop her from taking upon her shoulders the sort of responsibility that would have the majority running for the hills. Most people the Doctor meets rely on him to save the day. Harriet Jones, by contrast, knew that a time would arrive when Earth needed to stand on its own feet. When that time eventually comes and the Doctor is unable to protect the Earth, Harriet Jones proves to be more than just talk. 

As Dalek warships loom, Jones uses the subwave network she had championed to not only get in touch with the Doctor, but to ultimately sacrifice her own life for the survival of the planet. When most real life politicians won’t go so far as to sacrifice their first class train tickets, I can’t help by wonder what it would be like to have a leader as dedicated as Harriet Jones.

Mike Flaherty – Spin City

When Spin City was Michael J. Fox it was very, very good and when it was Heather Locklear and Charlie Sheen it was horrid. Before Marty McFly made Fox a global star, he made his name in America playing the pretentious Alex P. Keaton in the television comedy Family Ties.  The character was so popular at the time that Keaton has moved into the realm of television icon. So much so that his name has become a byword in the States for a young republican.

Fox could have been forgiven for steering well clear of playing another political character, but in 1995, Fox played a presidential aide to Michael Douglas’ president in the The American President. The filmed turned out to be the cinematic forerunner to The West Wing. While Martin Sheen, who played the White House Chief of Staff in The American President, went on to be President Bartlett, Fox went fairly immediately into the role of Mike Flaherty on Spin City.

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Flaherty is Deputy Mayor of New York and spends most of his time running around cleaning up the mess left behind by the city’s gaffe prone mayor, played by Rocky Horror’s Barry Bostwick. Flaherty runs city hall with the help of a real cast of characters that make his job never boring and always entertaining for the audience.

If it wasn’t for Flaherty, the city would be doomed, and without Fox, Spin City was doomed. When he left the show as a result of Parkinson’s disease, Heather Locklear and Charlie Sheen took over. A huge portion of the supporting cast was reshuffled at the same time and all the wit left with them.

Pitt the Younger – Blackadder

Pitt the Younger may only have appeared in one Blackadder episode (Dish And Dishonesty), but it was such a good episode that he deserves a mention. To this day, I can’t hear anything about rotten boroughs without thinking of Pitt the Younger challenging the Prince Regent’s sock budget.

The pint sized Prime Minister hatched a plan to give the Prince a right royal kick up the backside and have him struck from the civil list. With his employer facing bankruptcy, Blackadder has to come up with a plan. When even the temptation of jelly fails to win over Pitt, he sets out to get Baldrick elected to the rotten borough of Dunny-on-the-Wold.

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Pitt the Younger is portrayed with a hilarious combination of ruthless politics and emo teenage moaning. In his time in office he wants to defeat his three greatest enemies: Napoleon, the Prince of Wales and his geography master. Who couldn’t support an anti-geography teacher platform?

Malcolm Tucker – The Thick Of It

If swearing was an Olympic sport, Malcolm Tucker would be a shoo-in for 2012. As Director of Communications for the government, he may not be a frontline politician himself, but when he says ‘spin’ the MPs ask which direction. His political brain is as sharp as the words that shoot out of his mouth and the combination creates a fantastically entertaining television character.

The fly on the wall feel of The Thick If It makes the modern day Sir Humphrey character work in a similar way to Ricky Gervais’ David Brent. Tucker is clearly inspired by Labour party political spin doctors, such as Alistair Campbell and Peter Mandelson. The feeling that the pitbull politician caricature isn’t that far from reality brings a sense of discomfort to the humour that many of us secretly enjoy.

The few glimpses we get into Tucker’s personal life add to the strength of the character. Rather than going home to a loving family, he is alone in his office, seemingly lonely and married to his career.   We can almost feel sympathy for him until he opens his mouth and uses four letter words as if they were poetry. Then, if we are honest, we are just a tad bit jealous.

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David Palmer – 24

An argument could be made that David Palmer was the actual first black president of the United States. Before Obama arrived on the scene, the idea of America electing an African American president was so farfetched that not even television fiction had often dared to dream. Any such doubts were left on the cutting room floor when the 24 audience was introduced to Senator David Palmer. There was no question whether he was formidable enough to get the Democratic nomination, but instead whether he would survive the 24 hour run up to the primary election.

In those first 24 hours alone, he had to deal with an assassination threat, his son being suspected of murdering the man that raped his daughter and the realization that his wife is a first class witch with a capital B. With all this swirling around him, David Palmer still kept the clear head of a leader and carried himself with the perfect mixture of intellectual and bad ass. 

Knowing when to reign in Jack Bauer and when to turn a not so blind eye to his antics is part of Palmer’s brilliance. Very few people could authorize the detention of a nuclear weapon inside the United States and still keep such a high level of dignity.

Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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