The BBC were determined not to repeat the mistakes made by ITV in Monday’s debate, when only Corbyn and Johnson were invited. Instead they made some mistakes of their own, mainly by adopting the format of the utterly discredited Question Time programme. Half of Scotland spent most of the show scanning the audience to see if Orange Jaiket man had travelled down to Sheffield for the occasion. A mash up of a leaders’ debate and BBCQT is quite possibly the worst political show imaginable, a baying and unrepresentative audience combined with Johnson fnaugh-fnaughing and talking all over everyone else. However, cunningly, the BBC decided to make harder for him by not actually having the leaders up at the same time. That’s one way of making sure Boris Johnson doesn’t talk over everyone else. But it’s also a way of stopping the leaders from holding one another to account.
Corbyn was up first, and tried to answer questions rather than slag off the Tories. At least his glasses are on straight this time. His problem is that he wants to operate by the more gentlemanly political rules of the 1970s, when he’s up against a Conservative party without any principles. As the event began he was also up against some very hostile questioning. In a clip shared on social media, the Labour leader was cheered by the crowd outside the venue. The difference in attitudes between the crowd inside and that outside couldn’t be starker. However after the opening salvo of attacks on his character, the biggest cheer came when an audience member described his Brexit policy as the only grown up one on offer.
When asked why he would not listen to the people of Scotland if they voted for parties supporting another independence referendum, he replied “bribery”. Well not exactly, but that’s what it boiled down to. He said he’d invest in Scotland in the hope that would make us change our minds. He didn’t answer the question about basic democracy. He didn’t answer the point made to him about the existing mandate for another indyref. It was a telling difference from his answers to previous questions. There were a lot of complaints on social media about how loads of Scots had gatecrashed the debate. How dare those Jocks think they can get involved in a British election, said all those people who took it for granted that a QT audience in Dundee should be full of Tories with English accents.
Next up was Nicola Sturgeon. She got a big cheer when she said that she couldn’t put Boris Johnson into Downing Street. She asserted that it’s for the people of Scotland to decide whether we want another independence referendum, not Westminster. She was confident and assured despite the interruptions from Fiona Bruce. The audience was lacking in the hostility which many had displayed to Corbyn, but displayed the lack of understanding of Scotland we’ve come to expect from BBCQT audiences in the rest of the UK. We got the Spanish veto klaxon. We got someone who said that his grandparents had fought for Britain so what right did the SNP have to break it up. We got the question about the deficit, based as ever on the assumption that the deficit is due to Scottish shortcomings, not Westminster’s. On social media, Jimmy Krankie was trending, which tells you all you need to know about widespread attitudes to Scotland in the rest of the UK. Back in the real world, the First Minister came across as confident and convincing, and certainly a lot more at ease with the audience than Corbyn. She was easily the best performer of the evening.
After the First Minister we got the Lib Dem leader. Jo Swinson was asked if she regrets voting with the Tories to implement austerity. One of the audience members referred to “horrible Tory cuts”, although I might have misheard. She replied that she didn’t get everything right. It’s a bit like Dracula admitting that he’d been a tad inconsiderate when he drained all those virgins of their blood. A woman describing herself as a remainer asked how the Lib Dems could still call themselves liberal and democratic if they were planning to overturn the result of the EU referendum without another popular vote. She was asked how she could be against fracking given that she’d voted in favour of it twice. That was Ed Davies fault, she replied. A big boy did it and then became the Lib Dem deputy leader.
The Lib Dem leader gave a masterclass in how she becomes less popular the more people see of her. If Nicola Sturgeon came across as a headmistress, Jo Swinson came across as a nursery school teacher exasperated with a class of toddlers. A classroom act following a class act. By the end of her time I was ready to throw a copy of Elocution Lessons for Beginners at the TV. It wasn’t so much a car crash as a car crashing into an oil tanker that went on fire and exploded against a nuclear power plant causing a meltdown which triggered an earthquake and then set off a tsunami.
Finally we got Boris Johnson. Last and most definitely least. He was asked how important it was for someone in his position to always tell the truth. The audience laughed. He immediately tried to get onto the question of delivering Brexit. Groans and jeers. He ignored Fiona Bruce’s interruptions, being too busy interrupting himself. He was asked why he’s refusing to release the report on Russian interference, why he was avoiding scrutiny, why he refused to address the issue of the validity of the EU referendum. He replied by complaining that Parliament was blocking Brexit. More groans from the audience. More fnaugh fnaughing from Boris Johnson.
Then he was asked how he could justify poverty and the increasing use of foodbanks. He replied by telling us that he’d visited a lot of schools and hospitals. Fnaugh fnaugh. Wasn’t my fault, I was mayor of London at the time. He just blabbers on, speaking quickly in the hope that makes people realise that he’s not answering the question. Waugh waugh. Harrumph. Eh. Eh. But. But. Before this campaign began there were many who opposed the Tories who were worried about Johnson’s campaigning charisma and rhetorical flair. Fnaugh fnaugh. The audience groaned loudly when Johnson claimed that his party was fulfilling its promises to build affordable homes. The problem he’s got now is that even when he does attempt to answer a question no one believes a word he has to say.
Fiona Bruce reminds him about the Russian report question he’s been studiously avoiding. His answer was far from convincing. He accused the questioner of “Bermuda triangle stuff”. Fiona Bruce got a bit rattled with an audience that would lynch him given the chance.
Then he was asked to apologise for his racist rhetoric. Big cheer from the audience. I’ve never intended to cause hurt, he said. Ha. There’s another lie. If he’s caused hurt it was entirely an accidental by-product then. But he still doesn’t regret it. He used racist and homophobic terms, and then tries to brush this off as hand picking phrases to make them seem offensive. This is a man who wrote an article in which he compared gay married to bestiality and used the phrase “tank topped bum boys”. Is there a context in which the words he’s used are not offensive?
He stumbled badly when asked about the NHS. Asserted yet again that he’s building 40 hospitals. In his head. A questioner who identified herself as someone who worked in the NHS said “you’re lying to us.” All he could do was to attack the Labour party. Another question about trust. Another round of applause from the audience. He tried to get back to when he was mayor of London. This is a question about the NHS and he wants to go on about London transport and getting Brexit done. More groans. It was ten years ago that he was mayor of London. Ten. Years. Ago. He’s had other jobs since and he was crap at them. Oh god, he said “oven ready”. The Tories in the audience cheer.
That’s it. It’s over. And if this is what the British political system has to offer us, it’s all over for the UK. The only credible performer there was the one who wants Scotland to become independent. Sturgeon won convincingly, Corbyn did credibly well despite some aggressive questioning. Johnson was his usual bumbling lying fnaugh-fnaughing self, and Swinson was a car crash.
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