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TV made Boris – could it now break him?

If you ever need a reminder of what made Boris Johnson so appealing to voters, says Will Lloyd in The Times, watch his guest appearance on Eastenders in 2009. It was “peak Johnson”: pink-faced, boyish, grinning. Barbara Windsor, playing landlady Peggy Mitchell, “practically melts” at the sight of the then mayor of London. “I’m not sure she was acting.” Johnson was “made by television” – it was where he “whetted his image, flattered the nation, and won his fame”. And he was lucky in his timing. When he made his ascent in the noughties, TV had been hijacked by “boarding school types”. There was “head girl Nigella Lawson; hockey captain Clare Balding; spirited prankster Jeremy Clarkson; green-fingered Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall”. Johnson was perfect for the role of “frivolous class clown”.

The former PM is now returning to the box, as a regular contributor for GB News. But things are different. People no longer want to joke about politics. Already, two of Johnson’s fellow presenters have criticised his hiring: Neil Oliver ranted about his handling of the pandemic; John Cleese called him a “serial liar”. Johnson’s former political secretary, the MP Danny Kruger, once said his metro-liberal politics mainly stemmed from “a real reluctance to alienate people he might be having dinner with” – and alienating such people is “exactly why GB News exists”. Television made Johnson. “On GB News it’s much more likely to break him.”