JANET STREET-PORTER on Boris Johnson, Lorraine Kelly, Gillian Duffy and Gordon Brown

If you think it doesn’t matter that Boris Johnson has never heard of Lorraine Kelly – remember Gillian Duffy, the straight-talking Rochdale pensioner who managed to bring down a Prime Minister back in 2010.

Having popped out to buy a loaf, Gillian ran into Gordon Brown trying to win another term in office.

As he launched into a well-rehearsed list of Labour’s achievements including better schools, more police and improved health services, Gillian remained impassive, totally unimpressed.

She responded, ‘I don’t think it’s happening in Rochdale’, adding ‘I’m absolutely ashamed to say I’m Labour.’

Afterwards, Gordon fled, complaining to aides (not realising his microphone was still on) ‘That was a disaster… she was just a sort of bigoted woman’. Following an outcry when the remarks were broadcast, he was forced to apologise.

It was too late. The interview had marked Brown out as a man who had no idea of the issues bothering working class voters – Labour’s traditional supporters.

Gordon Brown is confronted by local resident Gillian Duffy during a visit to Rochdale in 2010

In the General Election that followed, Labour lost 29 per cent of the vote, and Brown subsequently resigned.

The Gillian Duffy catastrophe proves that all politicians (especially Prime Ministers facing partygate scandals that refuse to die down) must remember the only way to stay in power is to demonstrate they can connect with ordinary voters, understand their worries and concerns.

A failure to know the price of a loaf or a pint of milk is a vote-losing disaster, especially from a Prime Minister whose flat is covered in swanky wallpaper costing hundreds of pounds a roll.

From Rishi Sunak to Matt Hancock, Keir Starmer to David Lammy, any politician seeking our vote must flaunt their ‘normal’ credentials, bragging about their taste in music, love of sport and favourite TV shows.

University-educated men and women who normally only tune in to see themselves on highbrow stuff like Question Time or Newsnight will claim they never miss Strictly, Bake Off or X Factor. As if…

And what do ‘normal’ British people watch on telly?

Millions tune in to daytime television, where hugely popular shows like ITV’s Lorraine, Loose Women and Good Morning are an essential link to the outside world, the place where their stories are told, and their concerns are addressed. Mums, shift workers, pensioners, anyone at home, any age or sex. Don’t stick daytime telly in a little box marked ‘lightweight fluff’. 

Susanna Reid interviews Boris Johnson for ITV's Good Morning Britain yesterday

Susanna Reid interviews Boris Johnson for ITV’s Good Morning Britain yesterday

Daytime telly is where people tell their stories. Share their fears. Ask for help and offer support to others. Politicians who ignore daytime television risk being labelled out of touch.

This week, Boris Johnson’s attempts to flannel his way out of a live interview with Good Morning Britain’s Susanna Reid (his first in five years) would have gone unremarked if it were not for three fatal words, muttered at the very end of their encounter. As Reid said she would have to conclude their chat to hand over to Lorraine Kelly, Johnson asked ‘who is Lorraine?’.

Just like Gordon Brown, Boris suddenly showed us he lived on another planet. Planet Politics, along with his prosecco-swilling over-educated Downing Street chums.

The same people too busy saving dogs in Kabul to worry about pensioners who can’t afford to heat their homes, who sit and watch telly wrapped in blankets. The families who don’t eat so their kids can.

The elderly folk who can’t afford a mobile phone, let alone a holiday abroad. Their only entertainment is the television, and people like Lorraine their much-loved link to the world outside.

At a time when food prices have risen at their highest rate since 2011, when energy prices are going up 50 per cent, and filling the car costs as much as a ticket to Spain, money is on everyone’s mind. 

Elsie, a 77-year-old pensioner had just told viewers of Good Morning Britain she limited herself to one meal a day and rides on buses to keep warm during the day. The difference between the haves and the have-nots in our society could not be more devastating.

Susanna Reid raised the plight of Elsie who rides on buses to keep warm during the day

Susanna Reid raised the plight of Elsie who rides on buses to keep warm during the day

Following Elsie’s story, damage limitation waffle from Boris about introducing Freedom Passes for pensioners was feeble, especially as it turned out to be another lie – they were launched before he was Mayor, paid for by local councils, not parliament.

Flying to Ukraine to reinforce his role as Winston Churchill mark two, walking the streets in a war zone or addressing the Ukrainian parliament via video link won’t win Boris Johnson many votes from 50 per cent of the population – the female and the elderly… the people who are Lorraine Kelly’s loyal viewers.

Lorraine Kelly is a highly paid professional, who has hosted her show since 2010

Lorraine Kelly is a highly paid professional, who has hosted her show since 2010

Politicians might think that questions about the cost of milk are trivial traps set by journalists seeking sexy headlines, but the cost of living – heating your home, feeding your kids, and paying to get to and from work – ARE the key things that matter most to ordinary people.

Getting a doctor’s appointment, getting treatment for cancer, managing to renew your prescription for HRT.

Instead we have wealthy Ministers like fruit farmer George Eustice telling us we must remember to buy own brands at the supermarkets to cut costs. Very useful, I must remember that top tip!

Lorraine is a highly paid professional, who has hosted her show since 2010. She might be worth millions but – unlike Boris – she understands what her viewers are concerned about. She doesn’t fib, and she doesn’t patronise. It’s easy to sneer at daytime television, but politicians do so at their peril.

Since lockdown, viewing figures have soared. Daytime television is a key barometer of what’s bothering Britain, and no one does it better than Lorraine. As a presenter on Loose Women for over ten years, I’m only too aware of how close the relationship is between presenters and viewers.

They are like family. When I started, daytime television – especially Loose Women- was constantly being derided in the Press.

After launching dozens of campaigns – about the Menopause, cancer awareness, body consciousness and equality at work, daytime television – unlike politicians from all parties – it continues to grow in popularity and respect. Meanwhile, the public’s attitude to politics and MPs has plumbed new depths since partygate.

If Boris Johnson had 1 per cent of the straight-talking people skills of Lorraine Kelly, he wouldn’t be struggling to explain how it’s perfectly ‘normal’ to wheel suitcases of booze into Downing Street offices. Why staff were allowed to drink alcohol at their desks when millions of the population were trapped in their homes, as their relatives withered away and died out of sight in care homes.

There might be a very good reason why Boris and his rich pal Rishi can’t give Elsie a bit more dosh so she can turn on the fire in her home and eat another meal a day, but for the life of me I can’t understand what that might be.

But if Lorraine Kelly was in charge in Downing Street, we probably wouldn’t be in this mess.

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