yespin the wheel and win some heating. This was the premise of a segment on ITV’s this morning earlier this week. Hosts Phillip Schofield and Holly Willoughby stood astride a spinwheel contraption, upon which were marked various monetary values and, in some spaces, the promise of four months’ energy bills, paid for by the programme.
The segment was using the impending energy crisis as a topical hook to spice up a routine prize giveaway, but there was something discomfortingly crass about it – made all the worse by the desperation in the phone-in contestant’s voice, his audible relief when the dial landed on “bills”. The clip was rightly condemned; Words like “dystopian” have been thrown around without hyperbole. On Wednesday, the “household bills” prizes were removed from the Spin to Win competition. but-while this morning‘s cost-of-living-crisis carnival game may indeed have been a low-rent display of socio-political tone-deafness, it should have come as no surprise to, well, anyone who’s ever watched an episode of this morning before. The series suffers from the same disease that’s running rife throughout our country’s morning television ecosystem: a deathly allergy to political sincerity.
Morning shows (like ITV’s this morning, good morning britain and Lorraineand Channel 5’s Jeremy Vine) are designed to appeal to a broad mass market of everyday people. As such, they are obliged to tackle the issues of the moment: Brexit; covid; the cost of living crisis; Downing Street’s manic conveyor belt of increasingly useless prime ministers. But these issues are seldom explored in any real depth, with any of the actual necessary context. We live in a country that is extremely politically fraught. Our institutions are crumbling. Social divides are widening. The crises are piling up. There’s anger and frustration everywhere. What good does it do to whip this into froth?
Even when these daytime talk shows do engage with serious issues, you always get the sense there’s someone just off-screen yelling “keep it light!” every five seconds. The fact is, nearly every person watching this morning or good morning britain will have strong opinions. About the government. About income inequality. About immigration. About Brexit. Refusing to explore these issues with the appropriate heft just means that ill-informed opinions are left unchallenged, and justified grievances are left to fester.
Part of this comes, of course, from the need for impartiality – or, rather, the need for the illusion of impartiality. The more politically minded morning shows, such as Jeremy Vine, will often invite two ideologically polarized guests onto the series, where they will talk through an issue with pendulum-like equivocation. But even when one person clearly has the best argument (the most compassionate; the most fiscally astute; the most fact-based), the format almost always demands some kind of rote “let’s agree to disagree” dissolution. The time for spineless fence-sitting has passed. There is no such thing as political neutrality, and it’s rhetorically corrosive to pretend otherwise.
These issues were all thrown into the spotlight last Sunday, when comedian Joe Lycett appeared on the BBC morning show Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg. Unlike the other shows discussed above, sunday has an overt political bent: Kuenssberg is the former political head of the BBC. Lycett drew the ire of Conservative politicians and commentators after facetiously claiming to be “extremely right wing” and offering blank, implicitly ludicrous praise of Liz Truss. The accusations flew – that he had cheapened an otherwise dignified format, that comedians should not be invited onto credible adult talk shows.
But while on a surface level, Lycett’s stunt seems to play into the usual banal, entertainment-first predilections of morning television, the truth is the reverse. The substance of Lycett’s joke – that Truss’s policies, leadership and communication are so abjectly bad that the mere act of praising her cannot possibly be read as sincere – is anything but frivolous. It is humor born from years of mounting political anger. And it derailed the supposed “balance” of the programme’s line-up. How do you argue with a man who is winning simply by agreeing with you?
Frankly, it’s no wonder the Conservative outrage machine shot into action (to the laughable extent of mentioning Lycett’s talk-show escapade in parliament). Morning television had, for once, treated this government with the contempt it deserves. If only this were to become a daily occurrence. It’s time broadcasters started really giving people something to wake up to.