Are they okay?

British politics and media can be hard to stomach

“Firstly, are you OK?” Full of sincerity, surviving daytime TV host Holly Willoughby looked deep into the camera and emoted. “It feels very strange indeed sitting here without Phil.” 

“I imagine you might have been feeling a lot like I have,” Holly went on. “Shaken, troubled, let down, worried for the wellbeing of people on all sides.” Honestly, Hol, I’d been feeling astonishingly indifferent, but thanks for asking.

Speaking of people who concluded that a senior co-worker was so toxic he had to pushed out, Rishi Sunak was also emoting on Monday morning. “The whole experience just reinforces how tragic, morally wrong, and profoundly unfair this situation is,” he said, also full of sincerity, though he was talking about illegal migration, rather than Boris Johnson’s ongoing efforts to undermine him.

He was in Dover to tell us how successful he has been at stop the small boats from crossing the Channel. He was full of vim, because things are apparently going terribly well. He is perhaps a little optimistic in his assumption that if he does manage to actually close this route for asylum seekers, Nigel Farage will stop complaining about immigration, but no one can deny his positivity.

We’re constantly assured that, however bad things look, the prime minister’s time in office is turning out to be a triumph. Partly, this reflects his predecessors, as you can tell from the tone of some of the write-ups: he does his reading! He doesn’t tell transparent lies, or play with himself in meetings! These are all good things, but they’re not what you might call a high bar for an actual prime minister. 

The polls, we’re told, are about to turn around. In fact they’re already misleading, because they don’t reflect some or other group of secretly pro-Tory voters – perhaps the “Shy Sebs”, who support the Conservative Party but daren’t admit it to their employers. Somehow, though, reality has proved impervious to all this pro-Sunak briefing. 

Back then, to ITV, where Holly was apologising to viewers for the fact that the set of This Morning has turned out to be exactly what anyone who’d watched a drama about daytime television always assumed it was: a poisonous environment so political that it made the Cabinet look like a bunch of amateurs. Or a bunch of even-more amateurs. 

It would have been so much smarter if Rishi Sunak had taken this approach when he became prime minister. He could have sat on the Downing Street sofa, perhaps with a supportive co-host like Oliver Dowden, and offered a heartfelt apology to the nation for the behaviour of the government over recent years, one which made it clear that although lots of things had gone wrong, it had all been Someone Else’s Fault.

“Oliver, thanks for being here,” he could have begun, briefly reaching across to give his friend’s hand a supportive squeeze. “OK, deep breath! You me, and all of us here in the Conservative Party gave our love and support to someone who was not telling the truth.” If only there had been some clue that he was like that, eh?  

“Someone who acted in such a way that they themselves felt they had to resign from the government, or at least he did after we all resigned first.” He could even have offered his predecessor some sympathy: “It’s equally hard to see the toll that it’s taken on his own mental health, wandering around announcing that he’s going to get his old job back and that everyone is plotting against him.” 

And that would have given the whole nation room for closure: “I hope we can start a new chapter, and get back to a place of warmth and magic that a Conservative government means for all of us – or everyone with a net worth north of £100 million, anyway.” And then Dowden could have given him a big hug. It was the closure the nation needed. But then, perhaps it’s too much to expect a prime minister to have the political instincts of a television presenter. 

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