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Trump's troll: why ITV should worry about Piers Morgan

Good Morning Britain has become one of the most mortally embarrassing shows on television. Plus: The Moorside .

The Moorside (7 and 14 February, 9pm). It sounds picturesque, doesn’t it? In a literal sense, at least, it is accurate, because parts of Dewsbury are, like those of so many West Yorkshire towns, at once urban and quasi-rural. But there isn’t much that is lovely in Neil McKay’s depiction of the disappearance in 2008 of Shannon Matthews, aged nine, from the council estate (the Moorside) where she lived with her mother, Karen, and her mother’s boyfriend, Craig Meehan.

The Radio Times sells this series as a drama examining the “ties that bind despised communities with only themselves to rely on”, which might also have been a line that its producers used when pitching their idea to the BBC. McKay, though, has done his research and resists such easy romanticism. Even its more noble protagonists have motivations that are open to doubt.

Matthews disappeared for 24 days, during which time the police search for her became the largest for a missing person since the “Yorkshire Ripper” investigation. But she had not – as was feared – been abducted. Her mother and Meehan’s uncle, Michael Donovan, had drugged and hidden her. The cruel, mind-bogglingly dumb plan was that Donovan would eventually “find” Shannon, at which point he and Karen would share any reward money offered by newspapers. In December 2008, both were convicted of kidnapping and false imprisonment and given eight-year prison sentences. (Meehan, who was not involved with the kidnapping, was found guilty of possession of child pornography during the investigation.)

The Moorside tells this pathetic and troubling tale through Karen’s neighbour Julie Bushby, played gutsily by Sheridan Smith. In the weeks before Shannon was found, it was Bushby who rallied the community, organising marches and candlelit vigils to keep the girl’s name in the news. But if she (rightly) sensed that the media were tiring of the case because the family involved was poor and working class, something else, as McKay’s script makes plain, was also at play. The relish with which we saw her addressing the cameras wasn’t as unnerving as Karen’s comment that Shannon was “getting really famous now”. Nevertheless, it was all of a piece with it in a world seen through the prism of reality TV.

“We’re as good as anyone,” Bushby declared, sentimentality oozing from every pore. “We look after our own.” Such wishful thinking. Karen (Gemma Whelan) singularly failed to look after her own and she, in turn, had no protector: Meehan (Tom Hanson) was a creep and his relatives were bullies. Should we take her blankness for stupidity, or malevolence? Or was she also a victim? That this miniseries leaves you asking such questions is a mark of its ambition, its determination to be both factual and – another thing entirely – emotionally true.

Reluctantly, we stagger on to Good Morning Britain (weekdays, 6am), one of the three most mortally embarrassing shows on television (the others are The Pledge on Sky News and The Agenda on ITV). You may have noticed – and if you haven’t, might you be willing to give me a brief period of respite care in your social-media-free bunker? – that one of its presenters, Piers Morgan, is a) a devoted friend and defender of President Trump and b) apt to troll those who are not the above on Twitter and in the columns he writes roughly every five minutes for the Daily Mail.

What are the implications of this? In the UK, it has no precedent. For Morgan, the consequences could ultimately be very serious. But he won’t be the only one to find himself in disgrace should the gravest calamities occur. In the meantime, I don’t see that ITV can go on giving him a free pass, for all that he has his fans. What I knew of his activities elsewhere infected every bit of his banter I heard. Does his employer worry about this? Surely it must. When I emailed ITV to ask what it made of his activities ­online, a day-long silence was followed by the statement that it had no comment. On my third request, a “spokesman” noted only that Morgan is “well known for his views”. Too well known? We shall see.

Rachel Cooke trained as a reporter on The Sunday Times. She is now a writer at The Observer. In the 2006 British Press Awards, she was named Interviewer of the Year.

This article first appeared in the 09 February 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The May Doctrine

Photo: Channel 4
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Who will win Great British Bake Off 2017 based on the contestants’ Twitters

An extremely serious and damning investigation. 

It was morning but the sky was as dark as the night – and the night was as dark as a quite dark rat. He walked in. A real smooth gent with legs for seconds. His pins were draped in the finest boot-cut jeans money could buy, and bad news was written all over his face. “I’m Paul,” he said. “I know”. My hooch ran dry that night – but the conversation never did. By nightfall, it was clear as a see-through rat.   

Some might say that going amateur detective to figure out which contestants win and lose in this year’s Great British Bake Off is spoiling the fun faster than a Baked Alaska left out of the freezer. To those people I’d say: yes. The following article is not fun. It is a serious and intense week-by-week breakdown of who will leave GBBO in 2017. How? Using the contestants’ Twitter and Instagram accounts, of course.

The clues are simple but manifold, like a rat with cousins. They include:

  • The date a contestant signed up for social media (was it during, or after, the competition?)
  • Whether a contestant follows any of the others (indicating they had a chance to bond)
  • A contestant’s personal blog and headshots (has the contestant already snaffled a PR?)
  • Pictures of the contestant's baking.
  • Whether a baker refers to themselves as a “baker” or “contestant” (I still haven’t figured this one out but FOR GOD’S SAKE WATSON, THERE’S SOMETHING IN IT)

Using these and other damning, damning, damning clues, I have broken down the contestants into early leavers, mid-season departures, and finalists. I apologise for what I have done.

Early leavers

Kate

Kate appears not to have a Twitter – or at least not one that the other contestants fancy following. This means she likely doesn’t have a book deal on the way, as she’d need to start building her social media presence now. Plus, look at how she’s holding that fork. That’s not how you hold a fork, Kate.

Estimated departure: Week 1

Julia

This year’s Bake Off began filming on 30 April and each series has ten episodes, meaning filming ran until at least 9 July. Julia first tweeted on 8 May – a Monday, presumably after a Sunday of filming. Her Instagram shows she baked throughout June and then – aha! – went on holiday. What does this mean? What does anything mean?

Estimated departure: Week 2

James

James has a swish blog that could indicate a PR pal (and a marketing agency recently followed him on Twitter). That said, after an April and May hiatus, James began tweeting regularly in June – DID HE PERHAPS HAVE A SUDDEN INFLUX OF FREE TIME? No one can say. Except me. I can and I am.

Estimated departure: Week 3

Tom

Token-hottie Tom is a real trickster, as a social media-savvy youngster. That said, he tweeted about being distracted at work today, indicating he is still in his old job as opposed to working on his latest range of wooden spoons. His Instagram is suspiciously private and his Twitter sparked into activity in June. What secrets lurk behind that mysteriously hot face? What is he trying to tell me, and only me, at this time?

Estimated departure: Week 4

Peter

Peter’s blog is EXCEPTIONALLY swish, but he does work in IT, meaning this isn’t a huge clue about any potential managers. Although Peter’s bakes look as beautiful as the moon itself, he joined Twitter in May and started blogging then too, suggesting he had a wee bit of spare time on his hands. What’s more, his blog says he likes to incorporate coconut as an ingredient in “everything” he bakes, and there is absolutely no bread-baking way Paul Hollywood will stand for that.

Estimated departure: Week 5

Mid-season departures

Stacey

Stacey’s buns ain’t got it going on. The mum of three only started tweeting today – and this was simply to retweet GBBO’s official announcements. That said, Stacey appears to have cooked a courgette cake on 9 June, indicating she stays in the competition until at least free-from week (or she’s just a massive sadist).

Estimated departure: Week 6

Chris

Chris is a tricky one, as he’s already verified on Twitter and was already solidly social media famous before GBBO. The one stinker of a clue he did leave, however, was tweeting about baking a cake without sugar on 5 June. As he was in London on 18 June (a Sunday, and therefore a GBBO filming day) and between the free-from week and this date he tweeted about bread and biscuits (which are traditionally filmed before free-from week in Bake Off history) I suspect he left just before, or slap bang on, Week 7. ARE YOU PROUD NOW, MOTHER?

Estimated departure: Week 7

Flo

Flo’s personal motto is “Flo leaves no clues”, or at least I assume it is because truly, the lady doesn’t. She’s the oldest Bake Off contestant ever, meaning we can forgive her for not logging onto the WWWs. I am certain she’ll join Twitter once she realises how many people love her, a bit like Val of seasons past. See you soon, Flo. See you soon.

Estimated departure: Week 8

Liam

Liam either left in Week 1 or Week 9 – with 0 percent chance it was any of the weeks in between. The boy is an enigma – a cupcake conundrum, a macaron mystery. His bagel-eyed Twitter profile picture could realistically either be a professional shot OR taken by an A-Level mate with his dad’s camera. He tweeted calling his other contestants “family”, but he also only follows ONE of them on the site. Oh, oh, oh, mysterious boy, I want to get close to you. Move your baking next to mine.

Estimated departure: Week 9

Finalists

Steven

Twitter bios are laden with hidden meanings and Steven Carter-Bailey’s doesn’t disappoint. His bio tells people to tune in “every” (every!) Tuesday and he has started his own hashtag, #StevenGBBO. As he only started tweeting 4 August (indicating he was a busy lil baker before this point) AND his cakes look exceptionally lovely, this boy stinks of finalist.  

(That said, he has never tweeted about bread, meaning he potentially got chucked out on week three, Paul Hollywood’s reckoning.)

Sophie

Sophie’s Twitter trail is the most revealing of the lot, as the bike-loving baker recently followed a talent agency on the site. This agency represents one of last year’s GBBO bakers who left just before the finale. It’s clear Sophie’s rising faster than some saffron-infused sourdough left overnight in Mary’s proving drawer. Either that or she's bolder than Candice's lipstick. 

Chuen-Yan

Since joining Twitter in April 2017, Yan has been remarkably silent. Does this indicate an early departure? Yes, probably. Despite this, I’m going to put her as a finalist. She looks really nice. 

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.