Last night’s Question Time on BBC included Russell Brand (alleged comedian and “campaigner”) whose appearance was much hyped in anticipation of a battle between him and Nigel Farage. In the event the programme was interesting viewing, although Brand’s diatribes, long on abuse and gross simplification but short on fact, ideas or even well-articulated thoughts achieve nothing other than irritating the audience. One has to ask what on earth the BBC producers were thinking of. If there was a confrontation, Farage won it by miles by the simple, devastating tactic of providing factual answers to the audience’s questions. As one audience member pointed out, you may or may not agree with UKIP’s position on immigration but Farage has managed to get what was a politically taboo subject being debated sensibly in the mainstream.
Brand’s contributions consisted of an infantile obsession with taxing bankers, companies and “the rich” (which he seems to think excludes him, although he conceded that he had made “a bit of money” – some £10 million according to the internet). He was epically taken to task for not standing as an MP by a disabled audience member, after which he descended into a sulky silence.
The two Westminster MPs mouthed the usual platitudes. Mary Creag (Lab) stated that the solution to education was to make all schools perform well and fill them with good teachers. She neither explained how this would be achieved nor why after over 40 years of the experiment with comprehensive schools this Halcyon situation had not yet been achieved. For the Conservatives Penny Mordunt was no better. She made the usual call for a “grown up” debate – although if she cannot use the word adult there is little hope of that. As all MPs are adults it’s one of the more ludicrous political clichés. She also alleged that the role of government is to try to alter people’s behaviour to improve their lives. This is an absurdly dangerous anti-libertarian concept, and is also untrue.
Farage made his points with lethal, understated factual delivery which comes from UKIP having managed to convince everyone that immigration into the UK from the EU is uncontrolled. This is an incredible achievement, given that just six months ago this inconvenient fact was labelled by the political establishment as being an extremist view. (There was some form of female troglodyte in the audience who kept shouting to this effect, but eventually her peers shut her up). Farage also made some measured points about NHS funding, which might be the next UKIP field.
Perhaps the star of the evening was The Times columnist Camilla Cavendish, who produced well informed facts with unassailable logic. She eviscerated the Labour cry that the Tories will privatised the health service, pointing out that privatisation means selling off the whole enterprise lock, stock and barrel whereas the subcontracting out of work (including medical work) was something that Labour had done anyway. Crassly, Dimbleby failed to pursue this further. His authority on the panel is limited (at one stage Mary Creag had to act as Chair for him) and he has a tendency to enjoy the prurient detail rather than the substance of a point. Can it be long before he is replaced by Paxman?
The most pathetic, depressing comment came from an audience member who said that profit had no part in the NHS. Sadly no one enlightened him to the fact that all tax effectively derives from profit and that is what pays for the NHS and all other government funding.
It was a reasonably good debate, and I hope that the producers learnt that:
- The addition of an ill-educated, stupid, narcissistic D-list celebrity does nothing whatsoever to add to the quality of what is still one of the BBC’s few flagship programmes.
- Deliberately setting up a confrontation with UKIP is unnecessary and, if they can’t find someone better than Brand, doomed. Farage is very, very good. One could reasonably ask whether it is within the BBC’s remit to protect the Westminster political and media establishment from the inconvenient truth.
- Dimbleby is due for replacement.
I was very encouraged by the performance of Camilla Cavendish. I suspect Clegg, Cameron and Milliband will be avoiding her like the plague.