Boris Johnson's flat refurbishment scandal and Scottish election spats have turned politics into the worst kind of reality TV – Susan Dalgety

British politics has finally tipped over the edge, and we are now firmly in reality television territory.

Forget Love Island, Celebrity Big Brother or even The Sewing Bee, the must-see shows of the season include Boris and Carrie’s Makeover, where a hard-working couple renovate an 17th century London flat on a tight budget.

The nation was on the edge of their seat earlier this week as they watched the pair struggle to make their £30,000 budget stretch to include wallpaper at £850 a roll. Who hasn’t spent a little more than they had meant to when doing up the spare room?

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

Up here in Scotland viewers are being treated to The Only Way is Holyrood, a hilarious fly-on-the-wall which follows the “lives, loves and scandals” of a group of real-life Scottish politicians as they battle each other for our vote in a few days’ time.

Will grumpy Nic hold on to her huge lead and emerge victorious after the people’s vote on May 6? The new kid on the block, Anas from Glasgow, has already shown us some of his dance moves, but is he charming enough to beat former gym bunny Dougie R into second place?

Fans of old-timer Willie Rennie have stayed loyal to the cheeriest man in Scottish politics, but the return of arch-villain Alexander “Al-ah-buh” Salmond has been greeted with a yawn by most Holyrood watchers.

Read More

Read More
Coalition with the SNP would require 'very difficult conversations', says Patric...

And the man we girls all love to hate, eco-warrior Patrick Harvie is hoping his close friendship with Nic will stand him in good stead once the votes have been counted. He may not be King of the Jungle after Thursday, but he could be eighth in line for the throne if he plays his cards right.

Forget Love Island, the must-see show of the moment is Boris and Carrie's Makeover, says Susan Dalgety (Picture: ITV)

It may seem a cheap shot to compare the serious job of running a country to reality TV shows where hordes of “ordinary” people make a fool of themselves in the hope of becoming famous for 15 minutes, but the comparison is irresistible.

Reality TV is anything but real. The shows are carefully scripted and scrupulously edited to ensure there is enough drama and conflict to keep us watching, and each episode usually ends in tears. And by the end of the series, we have no idea what was fake and what was fact. Sound familiar?

I sat open-mouthed on Tuesday night as I watched Nicola Sturgeon on Channel 4’s election debate tell Krishnan Guru-Murthy that she was not planning a second independence referendum “immediately”. The government she led had published a draft referendum bill only six weeks previously on March 22. Either Sturgeon’s definition of “immediately” means within 48 hours of winning the election, or she was being less than candid about her intentions.

Last Sunday, she was uncharacteristically open when she admitted to the BBC’s Andrew Marr that the SNP had not yet worked out the impact leaving the UK would have on Scottish household incomes. Days later she told BBC News that “the independence case is a solid, well-based case…” Confused? Not as much as Patrick Harvie seems to be about sex.

The co-leader of the Scottish Greens apparently doesn’t know what a woman is, believing that any man who simply identifies as a woman, while still sporting male genitalia, is female. He told Sky's Adam Boulton, “a transwoman, like a black woman or a disabled woman or a Jewish woman, should not be discriminated against”. Even the ditsiest blonde on Geordie Shore would baulk at conflating the lived experience of black women with someone with body dysphoria. Or if he did, it would be left on the cutting floor.

Returning to the latest episode of Boris and Carrie’s Makeover, the furore over Carrie’s alleged dismissal of much-loved store John Lewis as a “nightmare” sparked more outrage than reports that the Prime Minister had allegedly screamed “no more f****** lockdowns – let the bodies pile high in their thousands” in response to a call for more stringent Covid restrictions. “You can kill off our granny but don’t dare insult our taste in table lamps,” seems to be the message from a nation hooked on Grand Designs.

This morphing of reality TV and politics – which reached a terrifying climax in America when Donald Trump, star of The Apprentice was elected President – may offer plenty of amusing content for social media, but it has irrevocably altered how we view our leaders.

Just as reality TV has transformed popular culture over the last two decades, so it has changed our expectation of politicians. We want populists to entertain us, and if that means they bend the truth a little, it’s a price worth paying for the show. “Johnson may be a lying buffoon, but he is such a character, look at his dumb-ass hair,” laughs the audience, as his party’s ratings continue to rise.

“Sturgeon may not have a clue about economics, and we may all be worse off if we leave the UK, but you can tell she loves Scotland and she is so hard-working,” chorus her loyal fan base, as she remains firmly in the number one slot.

Just as there is no going back to four TV channels and VHS tapes, so we seem stuck with reality TV politics. But if life must imitate art, then why can’t our politics be less like The Masked Singer and more like The Repair Shop?

Under the gentle but watchful eye of presenter Jay Blades, experts take much-loved but badly broken items and carefully restore them to their former glory, often ending up with something better than the original. No repair is too difficult, no family possession, no matter how tatty, thought unworthy of attention. And nothing is done for a cheap laugh or a throwaway headline.

Imagine if that same expertise, knowledge, and care was lavished on our National Health Service, our schools, our United Kingdom. Now that would be a reality show worth watching.

A message from the Editor:

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.


Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.