Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid (Photo: Rex Features)
Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid (Photo: Rex Features)

OPINION

How Susanna and Piers came to represent reason versus populism

The Good Morning Britain duo have become fiercely relevant – but ITV should stop trolling women, says Gaby Hinsliff

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By Gaby Hinsliff on

Good old Richard and Judy. 

The former king and queen of morning telly have become such a byword for cosiness that it's easy to forget how revolutionary the idea of a husband and wife hosting prime time once was. 

For so long, presenting teams had basically resembled some dusty male idea of a marriage: older man in charge of the serious stuff, plus younger arm candy. And suddenly along came not just a real-life marriage, but a proper partnership of equals.

If anything, Judy was the grown-up, expertly smoothing things over with guests after Richard had said something stupid. But you knew they loved each other regardless – that they needed each other to make it work. The formula was so successful that, before long, everyone was trying to copy it. So, what does it reveal about how Britain has changed that the current hot breakfast-telly pairing is Piers Morgan – basically playing a caricature version of every oaf you never wanted to date, work with, encounter on social media or see elected president – versus Susanna Reid as the gloriously snarky voice of sanity?

What’s fascinating is that they’re not politicians, but that their arguments increasingly get to the heart of what modern politics is about: aggressive populism versus facts and reason. It’s Nigel Farage vs Anna Soubry, or Donald Trump versus Theresa May, in microcosm, right down to the way that both prime minister and presenter make a virtue simply of having fought their way to the table. 

There’s something slightly odd about a mainstream telly presenter using that platform to cheerlead openly for Donald Trump

"You do know you sit next to a feminist every morning, right?" Susanna tweeted after Piers spent the weekend spouting nonsense about the worldwide Women’s March against Trump, threatening at one point to stage a Men’s March, complaining about the "creeping global emasculation of my gender by rabid feminists". (For it is, as ever, all about him). Compare that with Theresa May, when she was asked to call out Trump’s sexism, saying that "the biggest statement that will be made about the role of women (when they meet) is that I will be there as a female prime minister".

Just "being there" doesn’t mean much in the end, of course, unless you use that platform to represent millions of others who can’t be there. But standing up for other women both on and off screen is precisely what Reid does. Indeed, if she didn’t, then the game – and, on some level, it surely is a game, orchestrated very carefully with one eye on the ratings – just wouldn’t work. Remove the woman you’re all rooting for, the one basically saying the things women everywhere would have said to the Piers-a-like in their life if only they’d thought of it faster, and all that’s left is a puffed-up ego ranting at thin air. Who wants to watch that in the mornings, when we can get enough of it in real life?

So go, Susanna! Personally, I’m Team Reid all the way, grateful for anyone who can hold a civilised line in dark times with wit, energy and sense. And it's undeniably clever of ITV to have found a way of bringing serious arguments to life, for the millions of people who can’t face Radio 4 first thing. As Susanna herself put it, "I’m glad people are watching @gmb for the fire, passion, arguments & strength of character. It’s an extraordinary time for politics & media." They may be more Punch and Judy than Richard and Judy, but this couple too are pushing the boundaries of breakfast telly, bringing something more significant – if more provocative – to the party.

But the danger is that, by trolling female audiences like this, ITV may just be playing with fire. Like all trolling, it's only a game until some idiot takes every word seriously, after all, and the behaviour of some of Morgan’s more extreme Twitter followers suggests not everyone gets the joke. 

There’s something slightly odd, too, about a mainstream telly presenter using that platform to cheerlead openly for any politician, let alone one as serially untruthful as Morgan’s "good friend" Trump. A sprinkling of politics has undeniably perked up breakfast. Too much of it, and we all risk choking on our cornflakes. 

@GabyHinsliff

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Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid (Photo: Rex Features)
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