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'Not exactly Bake Off for politicos': Lance Price reviews 'Make Me Prime Minister'

Baroness Warsi and Alastair Campbell | Image courtesy of Channel 4

3 min read

Complete with a glittering array of journalists and politicians putting each contestant through their paces, Channel 4 has succeeded in producing an engaging – although sometimes painful – reality TV show

On the face of it, plucking strangers with little or no political experience off the street is an absurd way to choose a prime minister… until you look at how we’ve taken to doing it in real life. Viewers of the engaging Channel 4 series Make Me Prime Minister may be forgiven for looking at the contestants and asking if any of them could do a worse job.

This is not exactly Bake Off for politicos, of course. Most of us have done a bit of cooking, danced occasionally, and applied for a job. What we haven’t done is reform primary education, develop a green energy strategy from scratch or try to wean the public off chips. 

The challenges posed in each episode are apposite and the hoops the teams must jump through true to life. The mistakes they make along the way teach them – and the viewer – important lessons. Lessons that many a serving politician would do well to heed.

A snappy slogan is never a substitute for a well thought out policy. If you can’t anticipate and answer the first question a journalist will ask, don’t leave the office. Never dress up in stupid clothes just to get on the news. And most of all – never, ever tell a lie.

Both presenters are quick with advice that again seems obvious, but too often at Westminster isn’t. Sayeeda Warsi points out that “politicians’ speeches are best when they’re short”. My old boss, Alastair Campbell, says: “The media really, really want us to fail. Don’t be scared of them.”

Both presenters are quick with advice that again seems obvious, but too often at Westminster isn’t

The glittering array of practicing journalists and MPs who put the candidates through their paces are generally much more forgiving than they would ever be in real life. Even so, it is painful to watch as the wannabees have their weaknesses exposed. 

It may be an object lesson in just how tough politics is at the top, but it would be regrettable if watching the series put talented people off considering a career in politics. Although, frankly, if the recent Westminster antics haven’t done that already, a bit of entertaining TV isn’t going to make much difference. 

The best episode sees the rival PMs dealing with a potential riot on the streets, an incoming cyber-attack and a nuclear submarine in trouble while spying secretly in French territorial waters. Big, big decisions that come hard and fast, just as they do in No 10. Decisions that require judgement, experience, sound advice and decisiveness. By that reckoning, it’s no surprise that none of the contestants comes close to having what it takes. 

On balance, the slicker and better dressed they were, the least convincing they appeared. The star of the show is the redoubtable Jackie Weaver, of Handforth Parish Council fame. I’d put her in the Cabinet tomorrow. Otherwise, with some reluctance, I’d leave it to the professionals.

Lance Price is chief of staff to Kim Leadbeater MP, former BBC journalist and Downing Street special adviser

'Make Me Prime Minister'
Directed by: Josh Jacobs
Broadcaster: Channel 4

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