The problem, though, is that the X Factor reveals some of the flaws in this approach. I mean three things.
1. The public are susceptible to crass emotional manipulation. Ms Thomson asks:
And so on.
What see on the X Factor is a disease of our times - the urge to reveal personality even when it is of only arguable relevance. This intrudes into politics - as when Alan Johnson’s childhood is described as a backstory “to die for.”
2. An indifference to pure technique. Back in 2007, Rhydian Roberts was the best singer, yet - despite attempts to present him as the world’s gayest man - he was held back by the perception that he was cold and unsympathetic. He was beaten by the less able but “nicer” Leon Jackson.
Again, this infects our politics. The paradox of modern politics is that whilst politicians pretend to be ideology-free technocrats they feel the need to present themselves as capable of connecting to the public - hence Brown’s “letting it be known” that he’s a fan of the X Factor.
3. The public are bad at predicting their future preferences. What they want today mightn’t be what they want in two or three years’ time. Leon Jackson has been dropped by his record company after poor sales. Which is not an isolated instance; remember Steve Brookstein?
All this raises a question. Why should we tolerate a political system that panders to ill-founded preferences - as filtered and manipulated by media plutocrats - whilst paying little heed to justice?
If you assume - as Rawls did - that “justice is the first virtue of social institutions”, then isn’t the Marxist claim that capitalist democracy lacks legitimacy at least plausible?
* I’m not saying that politicians should be Rawlsians. The problem is that you can’t think coherently about justice without paying huge attention to Rawls.