Voices: Nadine Dorries might be a genius – this was the most embarrassed Boris Johnson has looked

Voices: Nadine Dorries might be a genius – this was the most embarrassed Boris Johnson has looked

There are many, many reasons why you don’t just give a chat show to a demonstrable idiot with absolutely no relevant experience whatsoever but they do now at least distil down to two short words: Nadine Dorries.

“Friday Night with Nadine” was an embarrassment long before it was ever broadcast. A disgraced former prime minister being interviewed by his most sycophantic cabinet colleague, whose political career obviously came to an end the second his did, would have been nauseating in the extreme whatever happened.

It could have been vaguely pleasant to watch and still been a horrendous crime against every single principle of journalism. But in the end it was neither. It was far, far worse than surely anyone dared imagine.

TalkTV employs large numbers of excellent journalists, not one of whom whispered a word out of their social media accounts about a sit down prime-time interview with a former prime minister happening on their own fledgling channel, which obviously tells you everything you need to know about it. But even they probably didn’t realise how wise they’d been to keep quiet.

The show kicked off with some pre-roll footage of interviewer and interviewee hugging each other passionately, to make clear that the person playing the “journalist” in this scenario, and the interviewee – the disgraced politician – are actually best of friends.

Boris Johnson appears on TalkTV with Nadine Dorries (TalkTV screengrab)
Boris Johnson appears on TalkTV with Nadine Dorries (TalkTV screengrab)

Then Dorries stared down the barrel of the camera and read the autocue with all the fluidity of a Fisher Price My First Speak and Spell down to its last 1 per cent of battery. And with her first, prewritten line, praised Boris Johnson for having “sent tanks to Ukraine”. Tanks were sent to Ukraine two weeks ago, six months after Johnson left office.

After that it got much worse.

I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that no satire has ever been this absurd. An actual prime minister, forced from office, sitting there as his interviewer uses her questions not to challenge or interrogate him, at all, but instead to absolve him of all wrongdoing, without really requiring him to say a single word.

“Do you think, looking back, that you were too focused on saving lives, do you regret that you didn’t spend your time prowling the corridors of Downing Street, checking that no one was having a party?”

That really was one of the questions.

Johnson, to his slight credit, looked like he wanted to die, which did at least make one thing clear. When Dorries spent most of the last three years being the only person prepared to scuttle round the TV studios, defending the transparently indefensible, most sane people wondered quite what it was that Johnson, who is not a stupid man, made of it. Whether he found it difficult, at all, having to watch his hole being dug ever deeper by the bluntest shovel in Westminster.

I’ve watched that particular clip back six times now, trying to fathom all of its unimaginable depths of absurdity and I have to admit I’m coming round to the conclusion that Dorries might be a genius.

Others have tried attacking Johnson, interrogating him, and where did it get them? Actually defending him, while he has to sit there and listen to the unsurpassed absurdity of it, in the same room, is quite possibly the only time he’s ever looked even remotely embarrassed by any of it at all.

It was not only this that made “Friday Night with Nadine” feel like a piece of performance art. TalkTV is still subject to the very same impartiality guidelines as the rest of the broadcast media, including Channel 4, which she and her boss were trying to sell off before they were kicked out of office and she was handed her own chat show at a rival station.

For those of us who are occasionally panel guests on these kind of things, it is not uncommon for the host to interrupt you, to turn to a different guest to ensure that balance is maintained.

Dorries had her own panel there, to “analyse” her “interview”. Some of them gamely tried to insert a bit of balance themselves, to offer a bit of perspective, to rescue Dorries from herself. It didn’t work.

One of them dared suggest that Johnson’s character might have rendered him unfit for office. At this point the actual host interjected to tell her, “Well I don’t agree with you there.”

Each of Johnson’s utterances were given the “BREAKING NEWS” treatment. The first, “PUTIN WILL NOT DROP A NUCLEAR BOMB” was somewhat undermined shortly after, when having been asked him what he likes to get up to in his spare time, and the same dramatic graphic was amended to read: “BORIS IS LEARNING HOW TO DRAW A COW.”

(It was this utterance that brought on the next segment, in which the three panellists, who I’m not naming because it just seems so unfair, were made to have a competition to see who could draw the best picture of a cow. One of them’s got to go back to work on Monday morning, actually running a think tank.)

For anyone thinking this kind of thing, this brazen, shameless, and entirely corrupt embarrassment might make them angry, the full hour of the show was a blessed relief. Occasionally, one wonders what it must be like, actually to live in a fully corrupt state, which this country absolutely is not, but good lord, not for the want of trying of a hell of a lot of people.

What must it be like, say, for the people of Turkmenistan in the late 1990s, to find out that the dictator in the palace has officially changed the word for “bread” to the name of his son, and they’re expected to go down to the local bakery and ask for it?

And now, in a way, we know. It really isn’t even that maddening, it’s so laughable it’s enough to cheer you up.

Whose idea was it? Who thought it would be good, to have Dorries, palpably incapable of reading an autocue, conducting an interview, chairing a panel, or otherwise doing anything at all, sitting around telling Johnson how great he is, on an actual news channel where, for the rest of the week, actual credible journalists are going to have to carry on pretending that none of this is happening?

When the hour was up and Dorries turned back to the camera again to announce: “WE. ARE. GOING. TO. THE. PUB. I. THINK. WE. DESERVE. IT.”

It’s tempting to say, “Don’t we all, Nadine, don’t we all?” But it wouldn’t be true. Absolutely everybody involved in “Friday Night with Nadine” will definitely need a drink, but absolutely none of them deserve one.