A pandemic panto with robotic stars

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Good Morning Britain recently shone the spotlight on a frankly bizarre new contender for a big BAFTA win; brutally lambasted by The Guardian’s Joel Golby, Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s crocodile tears on ‘V-Day Tuesday’ were almost enough to leave even outspoken audience member, Piers Morgan, momentarily speechless. Colin Firth can relax back in his seat, however; a single digit dabbing away at a suspiciously dry eye officially crowned Hancock King of Cringe, as the Tory trouper proved himself less suited to the silver screen, and more at home in a pandemic panto.

So, is the politician impassioned after all? Oh no he isn’t. Or is Hancock the cold-blooded creature the papers paint him to be? Oh yes he is! Whether a rookie ruse to scrabble for any remnant of sympathy from a largely unforgiving public or not, Hancock’s showstopper spectacle of emotion poses a cardinal question: should more be done to humanise politicians in the media?

The critics are cut-throat, yet the power of the internet lends no helping hand; catchy lyrics such as “And at Christmas time infections spike and we don’t care” in PoliticsJOE’s latest viral hit only exacerbate impressions of a dispassionate Downing Street clan. Even mainstream television channels have jumped on the Boris-bashing bandwagon, with Spitting Image’s puppet portrayal of Dominic Cummings as a gilet-donning alien and Priti Patel as a vampire-toothed dominatrix doing little to quench public perceptions of politicians as extra-terrestrial villains.

In a global pandemic in which virtually all physical connection has been lost, I can’t help but notice the irony that the only thing clinging onto any human qualities is the personified ‘enemy’ that is the virus itself. Trapped behind three socially distanced podiums on our television screens, Britain’s politicians have their work cut out for them; in a world where the closest you can get is two metres away, it seems almost inevitable that the Westminster massive is perceived as increasingly ‘out of touch’.

Yet crucifixion by the media is, to a degree, undue. In stark contrast to Donald Trump across the pond, whose mask-defying gestures drip with godlike invincibility, UK politicians are, without doubt, making an effort to ditch their robotic rep. Sleeves rolled up, Boris Johnson this month braved the frontline, meeting vaccinated patients at Guy’s Hospital in London. And the PM hasn’t shied away from expressing his emotions following the reversal of Christmas relaxations either, lamenting that ‘it is with a very heavy heart’ that changes to plans have been made.  

Cabinet ministers are even taking to the tools of Twitter to prove they’re somewhat still human; Dominic Raab’s bio, “father of two, boxing fan”, confirms there’s more to the First Secretary of State than meets the eye, whilst Gavin Williamson has faith that the cuteness factor will win the public over, opting for a profile picture capturing the Education Secretary and his closest companion: Man’s best friend, a black spaniel.

The media remains ruthless, however, and, if 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that it takes three nights in intensive care on a ventilator for the papers and the public to get behind their political leader and pray for him and his pregnant fiancée.

It was Dominic Cummings, however, this year who braced himself against the brunt of the media’s furore. I cannot be the only person to notice how the same televised treatment hasn’t been given to Sky ‘ Beth Rigby, who, like a hyena, savoured every last morsel in May’s rose garden press conference, after she had ripped the PM’s then chief advisor to shreds; the political editor’s recent flouting of Covid-19 rules, alongside presenter Kay Burley, seems to have conveniently been brushed under the carpet.

Everybody makes mistakes. Politicians aren’t the thick-skinned robots the media imagines them to be. We all face our personal pressures and anxieties, and the 2020 suicide of German finance minister Thomas Schäfer raises the question, “Should politicians be cut more slack?” Time is of the essence, however, the handling of a coronavirus crisis leaves little room for human error. Boris Johnson may not have signed up to battle a global pandemic, but we voted for him to be our leader, and he can’t let us down now.

Ultimately, it’s not up to the media to humanise politicians. Westminster’s Conservative clique should rather make a concerted effort to lose its fame for ignorance; the nation waits with bated breath for Johnson’s cabinet to level with its citizens and to realise that the fate of Britain’s schoolchildren should no longer rest upon the moral compass of the Manchester United football team.

The clock is ticking. In the meantime, however, Hancock should perhaps consider retraining at RADA.

Image: Marcin Nowak via Unsplash

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