Last night’s Question Time was the most feverishly anticipated since the BNP’s Nick Griffin took on Westminster five years ago – and it didn’t disappoint.
The Twittersphere laughed and roared by turns. The good people of Canterbury thought they were on The Jeremy Kyle Show. David Dimbleby brought out his technicolour tie to mark the special occasion.
In the red corner was Russell Brand, sporting his preferred Latino lover look: all open shirt, flowing locks and carefully pruned goatee.
In the blue corner was MEP and Ukip leader Nigel Farage, looking unusually staid: here was a man who meant business, his sober suit declared. The pink flush creeping up his neck and puffed out cheeks suggested otherwise. Was he thinking what we were thinking? Would the smooth-talking man from the Home Counties finally meet his match in the flamboyant Cockney?
(Ok, ok, there were other panel members: Penny Mordaunt for the Conservatives, Mary Creagh for Labour and – last but not to be underestimated – Sunday Times columnist Camilla Cavendish)
Cushions aplenty to hurl at the television? Check. Herbal tea to soothe the throat after the inevitable howling? Check. Then let battle begin…
Round one: is the petty, adversarial nature of politics causing its own decline?
Brand finds the word “adversarial” something of an adversary. Over his shoulder Farage turns pinker still: he’s not worried any more; he’s trying not to snigger.
Farage complains that the press focuses on the colour of people’s ties. (Guilty as charged: purple, and not a patch on Dimbleby’s psychedelic 70s number.)
Eh, what’s this? A turn up for the books, that’s what: they’re agreeing. How disappointing.
The score so far: Farage 1, Brand 1
Round two: Dimbleby is disappointed too. He stokes the fires, brings out the ‘v’ word…
With a pained expression Brand explains why he doesn’t vote. He puts in an Oscar-worthy performance in case politics doesn’t work out and he has to return to his short-lived acting career. “Give us something to vote for!”, he cries. Even Dimbleby looks momentarily moved.
While we wipe away a tear Penny Mordaunt bemoans Punch and Judy politics: no prizes for getting which one Brand is.
Brand interrupts Mordaunt calling her “love”. Immediately he realises his mistake.
“’Scuse the sexist language. I’m working on that. I apologise.”
He knows it’s too late when Labour’s Mary Creagh takes sides with Conservative Mordaunt: “What people really don’t like is men talking over women on these types of shows.”
Minus one for sexism: Farage 1, Brand 0
Round three: can a rich businessman like Farage properly represent a deprived area like South Thanet in Kent?
Farage plays the poverty card – “I’m not the wealthy one on the panel this evening” – and is rewarded with a heckle: “racist!”
Minus one for the alleged millionaire: Farage 0, Brand 0
Round four: is Britain really overcrowded?
Farage opines the lack of primary school services and the lack of GPs and…the congestion. That’s right, Nige: everyone hates a traffic jam.
Brand brings out his trump card: “It’s not the immigrants, it’s the bankers” (yes, we’re paraphrasing, there was a lot more gesticulation than that…) He brandishes a post-it note with the figures and is rewarded with a round of applause.
But just as it looks like Brand is pulling into the lead there’s a surprise attack from an audience member: he urges Brand to put his money where his mouth is – to stand for Parliament.
“I would stand for Parliament but I would be afraid I would become one of them.”
Brand’s cop out is met with jeers. Even Farage urges him to stand. A woman with purple hair comes ferociously to his defence, wagging her finger at Farage.
Farage has supporters too: “You are the rudest woman I’ve ever met,” another audience member tells the woman with purple hair. It’s starting to feel like The Jeremy Kyle Show but without – and we never thought we’d miss this –Kyle’s reassuring presence. Where is Dimbleby?
Brand tells another audience member he will stand when and if and but… It’s hard to hear above the heckling.
Oh wait, there’s Dimbleby, reprimanding an overeager audience member: “you’re not a woman, you’re a man!” So it is The Jeremy Kyle Show.
The score: confusion reigns. We think the woman with purple hair won it.
Round five: what role should the private sector play in the future of the NHS?
Both fail to get a word in edgeways for a while. Brand is doodling. Farage is out of the picture, literally. The cameraman is clearly on the side of the purple-haired lady.
Farage is anti-outsourcing.
Brand cannot bring himself to look at or mention Farage, but finds himself agreeing with “that gentleman over there”: business has no place in healthcare.
Score: Farage 0, Brand 0
Final round: should we bring back grammar schools?
Farage says yes. (Yep, paraphrasing again but it’s late and this viewer is exhausted.)
Russell Brand says no but he’s flagging too… He’s lost it. Farage grins.
Final score: Farage 2, Brand 1
We tuned into Question Time. We got Jeremy Kyle. We’re looking forward to the next match: Farage vs the purple-haired lady…