Make Me Prime Minister review – absolute, exquisite agony

The new reality series Make Me Prime Minister (Channel 4) is The Apprentice for aspiring politicians. If an unhappier sentence has ever been written in the history of English, I do not think I wish to know.

What can I say? I have already told you everything. Do I need to delineate the specific horrors? Very well then. Let us go onward, downward together. There are a dozen contestants. The process of winnowing the wheat (normal, albeit terrible, human beings) from the chaff (the moronic, the sub-moronic, the sociopathic, the hateful and the simply awful) is conducted via various half-baked tasks pursued with a vigour you couldn’t muster if you were trying to put out a fire on your own head. They are overseen by sneering experts Alastair Campbell and Sayeeda Warsi. Listening to the latter’s voice is like laying your head near a screaming drill, alas without the prospect of it slipping and boring a blessed release into silence through your skull.

“It would be quite extraordinary if one or more of the people who go through this process become elected politicians,” says Campbell. Well, yes and no.

Let’s meet them, and hope we get our reward in heaven as my grandmother used to say. There’s paralegal Conall Doyle. “Other candidates shouldn’t take me for granted,” he says in the little introductory speech they all have to give so we can calibrate our initial hate-scale properly. He means they shouldn’t underestimate him. All Apprentice-style candidates have a tendency only to approximate verbally the thoughts they have in their heads. Insert your own politician joke here. I have been through enough.

There’s 20-year-old student Alice who is a braying blond devotee of Margaret Thatcher (“She hud the meeewst impahct on me puhsonally”) and honestly, I can’t even.

There is Danny, who is the son of Goldie, and the only immediately personable one in the bunch.

There’s Natalie, who has some nous. She is elected PM of her team for the first week.

There is Darius, who has unlimited self-belief. He is elected PM of his team for the first week and is a plank.

There’s Jackie Weaver, if you can remember that far back in cultural history. And there are others, but let’s save ourselves the agony.

The teams’ first task is to come up with policies to reform primary school education. Darius goes for teaching one subject a day outside. “There aren’t that many days when you want to take a bunch of children outside,” notes Jackie, who has the advantage of being a) a middle-aged woman and b) not a plank. Darius ploughs ahead. They will reduce the Ofsted budget to pay for it.

Natalie’s team thinks requiring children to be given one “open” vocational lesson a week will solve most problems in the British educational system. They will increase corporation tax by 1% to pay for it.

Then they have to launch their policies (“I wouldn’t describe either of them as a policy,” says Campbell, putting his finger on just one of the problems) to the press. This is the point at which I start necking Valium on top of the whiskey I have already been drinking. Because this is where the extended humiliation that is this genre’s USP begins and I can no more bear it now than I could when the beast first reared its Sugary head 17 years ago in 2005, alongside Dragons’ Den (although that plied the trade slightly less horribly.)

We watch them flounder – whether playing PM, press officer or some post in between – hopelessly out of their depth. They are there only to be criticised by the waiting journalists, Warsi, Campbell, the rest of the team members and the viewers on social media after broadcast. And me, I suppose. But they’re all so hateful and useless! What are we supposed to do? Such is the toxicity it breeds and depends on.

But if we judge it on its own terms, it’s a hit. How could adding politics (the top-ranking love-to-hate subject in existence) to the basic recipe – and presenting us with possibly the only breed of people (wannabe politicians) we suspect and despise even more than young, thrusting corporate types – not compel? How could two unlovely, unsympathetic presenters not goad us into greater and greater engagement. Technically it’s worth five stars. In every other way, I wish I was dead.