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- Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since 2019
On last night’s episode of I’m A Celebrity… Get Me Out Of Here!, presenters Ant and Dec skewered Boris Johnson over the recent allegations that a Christmas party was held at 10 Downing Street last year, breaking Covid rules on social gatherings at the time.
Referring to the show’s format of voting in new camp leaders, Ant joked “and that means David’s reign is over. But they weren’t celebrating. They categorically deny any suggestions that they had a party!”
Dec mugged to camera while Ant continued “and this ‘fictional’ party definitely didn’t involve cheese and wine, or a secret Santa!” Dec capped off the bit with an ominous “Evening prime minister… for now.”
The joke was the latest in a string of quips about Johnson made by the pair during this season of the show.
When asked what the show’s camp leader actually does, Ant replied that “they look increasingly dishevelled, give cushy jobs to their mates, and pretty much make it up as they go along.”
In another episode Dec shuffles through papers on his desk, periodically looking up to say “forgive me” again and again, in an increasingly uncanny imitation of Johnson’s embarrassing performance at last month’s CBI convention.
The gags are funny, but there’s something very dark about the fact that the two presenters have been able to make Johnson’s failings into such a consistent running bit for their TV show. Maybe I’m just being idealistic, but I feel like your prime minister shouldn’t exhibit so much corruption and incompetence in such a short space of time that dunking on him becomes the go-to way to stretch out a segment.
Darker still are the jokes themselves, that seem to have evolved from cheeky digs to a kind of seething anger.
The two have used the “evening, prime minister” gag in previous years, stretching back to MP Nadine Dorries’ short 2012 stint in the jungle when they joked that her then-boss David Cameron would be watching the show in order to keep an eye on her. But this latest series of jokes have felt more pointed; less like Johnson is in on the joke, and more that he is an object of much-deserved derision.
Keir Starmer referenced the joke in today’s Prime Minister’s Questions, noting that even “Ant and Dec are ahead of the prime minister on this.” He’s right; in this gradually escalating scandal the moment the normally affable presenters failed to contain their scorn felt like a real watershed moment. Starmer could stand to take some notes from the pair, as his own demands for an apology from Downing Street have felt somewhat downplayed at a time when he may have been able to leverage the public’s disgust of the government’s action into a legitimate call for Johnson’s resignation.
The prime minister’s response to the accusations was predictably anaemic, saying at PMQs: “I apologise for the impression that has been given.” That’s right: in the face of another crushing scandal the prime minister stood up on national television and said the political equivalent of, “I’m sorry you were offended.” I can’t wait for his edgy Netflix comedy special.
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Up until now the government has got by on a mix of public apathy and the devil’s own luck, but that may not be enough this time. Ant and Dec’s comments point towards a more mainstream rejection of the government’s actions than the tedious both sides-ism we usually get whenever a Tory decides to do something objectively terrible. Political partisanship can be poison to entertainers who have built their careers on their meat-and-potatoes likeability. The fact that Ant and Dec feel comfortable enough to make such incisive comments indicates that it isn’t really a risk at all this time; people really are that mad.
After a decade of having this country made fools of by the Conservatives, I’m not sure how I feel about the Byker Grove kids being the ones to put a stake through the heart of this government. It feels wrong, but also right in a way. Maybe we should just double down. Put Ant and Dec in the shadow cabinet. And while we’re at it, let’s make Cat Deeley secretary of education. The former SMTV gang may not have the political experience that our elected representatives have, but at least they have the public trust.
Good evening prime minister… you’ve been rumbled.