As flies to wanton boys

Gambling with human lives is just another day in the lives of the one per cent


“Can I tell you a personal story?” Piers Morgan asked the question out of politeness. Scientists have yet to discover a force powerful enough to prevent Morgan from talking about himself. There are dwarf stars with gravitational fields less strong than his ego. There were child-emperors of China more prone to self-doubt.

“I’ve been through a lot of prime ministers,” he remarked, as though they were all working only for him

Somewhere on the edge of our screens there was a small figure in a tight suit. It turned out to be the prime minister. It takes a lot to generate sympathy for Rishi Sunak these days, but try this: at some point in the last week, he had to sit and listen to Piers Morgan, in person, for an hour.

A full hour! 60 minutes! 3,600 seconds, each one of them stretching out like an eternity before him as Morgan banged on and on and on.

The interview was taking place somewhere that was described as upstairs in Number 10. The décor was “upmarket hotel”, with not a scrap of gold wallpaper in sight. Not many journalists get invited into the Number 10 flat, but then not many journalists get hour-long interviews with the prime minister. An analysis of which ones do might inform a Media Studies A Level essay. It can’t be down to audience size: these days Morgan is shouting at people on TalkTV, one of those stations you skip past as you’re trying to find which of the ITVs is showing The Bourne Supremacy tonight. But perhaps there is some other reason for being nice to the channel, founded in 2022 by Rupert Murdoch.

Or maybe it’s simply that you have to do an hour with Morgan to get as many words in as you would if you did 15 minutes with Laura Kuenssberg. The opening few minutes was largely Sunak smiling politely as Morgan explained to him that being prime minister was a tough gig. Then he got to chuckle as Morgan reminded him that in the summer they’d run into each other on a plane to LA. This episode in first class “really brought it home to me,” Morgan said, “how all-consuming these jobs can be.” Certainly one imagines that “I really can’t chat, Piers, I have to read this briefing on Ukraine” is a better excuse to slip on the noise-cancelling headphones than “Excuse me, but I’ve always wanted to watch Ocean’s 11.”

As the hour went on, we got Morgan’s views on tax, the Middle East, policing demonstrations, and security for MPs. “I’ve been through a lot of prime ministers,” he remarked, as though they were all working only for him. Occasionally Sunak would get a word in: “I think you’re absolutely right” or “I recognise that”.

Is it bad taste to bet on human lives? Maybe this is what everyone is doing up there at the front of the plane

The “personal story” was about Morgan’s mother, who had a horrible time waiting in hospital recently. It is thanks to this that Morgan knows about the NHS. Poor old Sunak. If only Mother Morgan’s heart were a little stronger, the interview might not have covered the health service at all. She wasn’t the only Morgan relative to get a mention. His brother and brother-in-law are both colonels, so Piers is an expert on the army, too.

Could things get worse? Somehow they could. They turned to Rwanda, a policy that Morgan, we learned, thinks is a bad one. Would any planes get off the ground? Sunak thought they would. Morgan thought they wouldn’t, and he was prepared to put money on it.

“I’ll bet you a thousand pounds to a refugee charity,” Morgan said, reminding us all that, as well as flying first class and knowing lot of prime ministers, he is very rich. Sunak tried to keep talking. “Thousand pounds,” Morgan said again, tossing it out like it was nothing which, please don’t forget, it really is as far as he’s concerned. The two extremely wealthy men shook hands, agreeing the wager. Is it bad taste to bet on human lives? Maybe this is what everyone is doing up there at the front of the plane. If nothing else, TalkTV was providing us with a fascinating insight into the lives of the One Per Cent.

Many political interviewers see their role as challenging their subject, trying to tease out the contradictions in their positions, to get to the heart of their thinking. Morgan takes a different approach: why would anyone want to listen to the prime minister when they can listen to him? He certainly didn’t. Sunak, finding a moment when Morgan had paused for breath, mentioned that Keir Starmer had in his lawyer days represented the now outlawed Hizb ut-Tahrir.

“Do you think he is a terrorist sympathiser?” asked Morgan.

“Let the facts speak for themselves, right?” replied Sunak.

This was quite a moment, the prime minister suggesting that the leader of the opposition and the man most likely to succeed him was a terrorist sympathiser. Morgan though didn’t pause to interrogate this. Either he hadn’t noticed or he thought it was self-evidently true. We would learn later that Morgan’s view of Starmer is that he is far lower than any terrorist. He’s the worst kind of scum: someone who has declined an interview with Piers Morgan.

This was the unforgiveable sin. “You do put yourself up to be held to account more than he does,” Morgan told the prime minister, and if you listened carefully at that moment you could hear the choking laughter of journalists who have attended Sunak press conferences over the last year to learn, yet again, that only right-wing papers would be getting questions.

“If you’re watching this, Sir Keir,” Morgan said, “you know where to find me.” This was obviously a joke. No one knows where to find TalkTV.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover