Questionable Time. Photo: BBC screengrab
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What happened when Nigel Farage and Russell Brand were on Question Time together?

"A pound shop Enoch Powell".

Terrible scenes unfolded on Thursday night as the merry europhobic frog Nigel Farage locked horns with randy scarecrow Russell Brand in what was probably the most stressful line-up on the BBC's Question Time since that episode when a nonplussed pigeon flew in.

And in fact, this was rather a pigeonlike performance from the two populist posturers: lots of squawking, and rarely a leg to stand on.

I watched it so you didn't have to. Here are the best (or worst, depending on how at peace you are with our political life) bits:
 

Slamming our terrible "adversal" politics

The first question was about petty, adversarial British politics and what should be done about it. A treat for both Brand and Farage, who like to position themselves precariously outside the establishment, even though they represent everything that is wrong with the way politics is shaped and covered.

"We're not doing real politics anymore," Nigel Farage asserted, gravely. With Russell Brand facing him, shirt unbuttoned to dangerously sub-Tony Blair levels, this must be the truest phrase ever to be uttered on a QT panel.

 

Brand seemed uncharacteristically nervous. His voice trembled and he appeared to have forgotten his incessant inner thesaurus when answering a question he is usually so well versed in. He slammed the "petty, adversal nature of politics" before rounding on Farage for his background in the city: "That dude... had the perfect training to be a politician":

 

Brand also called Farage a "fella", and a few choice audience members "mate". A patronising "love" was reserved for Tory minister Penny Mordaunt: "Excuse the sexist language; I'm working on that."

On that subject, Labour's shadow international development secretary Mary Creagh politely suggested people don't like men interrupting women all the time, only to be interrupted by David Dimbleby, who was ostensibly chairing the debate.
 

"A pound shop Enoch Powell"

Brand did redeem himself slightly by coming out with the soundbite of the night, warning the audience that Farage is not a "cartoon character", but rather "a pound shop Enoch Powell - and we've gotta watch him".


Audience member yelling at Brand

A disabled man in the audience tore Brand to shreds, telling him he doesn't "like people preaching", nor the accusation that Farage has criticised the disabled. His question ended in him repeatedly challenging Brand to "STAND" for parliament.

"I would stand for parliament but I would be afraid I would become one of them," Brand replied limply, his Medusan curls wilting under the pressure and sadness of it all. This led to the man shouting, "RUBBISH" at him for quite some time. Dimbleby either didn't notice, or was simply enjoying the scene.

Here it is:


Audience member yelling at Farage

And then it was Farage's turn, as a woman continuously screamed at him for being "racist", before issuing the ultimate Kent-based threat: "I live in South Thanet and I'm coming for you, Farage." She was accused of being the "rudest woman I've ever met",  by a woman who was interrupted calling for immigrants to be "vetted". Which is also pretty rude.

Here's the now iconic blue-haired offender:

Dimbleby also let this go on for some time, for purposes of balance presumably.

 

Mary Creagh being sensible on immigration

Perhaps not the night's most electric moment, but shadow cabinet member Creagh had what Labour's message should be on immigration down to a tee, addressing the housing shortage, public service problems and low wages rather than giving credence to the tale of Britain being "overcrowded" with immigrants.

Another rock in a stormy televisual sea was the journalist Camilla Cavendish, who gave measured views on each subject and gently admonished the media, which shot Brand's tired old "mainstream media, vested interests, etc etc" fox.

 

"Weaponising" the NHS

"Weaponising": the strange, Brandesque fake verb Ed Miliband apparently used about the health service, according to Mordaunt. Even Creagh couldn't be bothered to display loyalty to her leader on this one, appearing as baffled as the rest of them.

More telling was Farage's answer to the question about private money in the NHS. His party has been embarrassingly all over the place about its stance on the health service in the past few months, as it attempts to take a populist stance on the subject to creep further into Labour's core vote.

Farage's revealing language about ruling out outsourcing "in the short term", and his insistence Ukip would "fight the election" on the grounds of outsourcing to private providers having "not delivered" adequate results, suggests that the party will change its stance on this after the election.


But he went to a private school

The whole sorry affair ended comfortingly with the obligatory ad hominem attacks on panel members' views on education:

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Ariana and the Arianators: "We really are like a family"

The pop star provides her fans with a chance to express themselves joyfully - their targeting was grimly predictable.

Ariana Grande’s concert at Manchester Arena on 22 May began like any other. Children and teenagers streamed through the doors wearing pink T-shirts, rubber wristbands and animal ears (one of Grande’s signature looks). They screamed when she came on stage and they sang along with every song. It was only once the music had ended, and the 20,000-strong audience began to leave the venue, that the horror began – with a bomb detonated at the main entrance.

The show was just one date on Grande’s Dangerous Woman tour, which began in Phoenix, Arizona in February, moved across the United States and Europe, and had stops scheduled for South America, Japan, Australia and Hong Kong. (Since the Manchester attack, Grande has suspended the tour indefinitely.)

Since releasing her debut album in 2013, Grande has successfully transitioned from teen idol to fully fledged pop star (all three of her studio albums have sold over a million each) with a combination of baby-faced beauty and Mariah Carey-style, breathy vocals. Her most popular records are bubblegum pop with a Nineties R’n’B influence, a combination also expressed in her fashion choices: Nineties grunge meets pastel pinks.

She entered the limelight at 16 on the children’s TV programme Victorious, which ran on the Nickelodeon channel, pursuing her musical ambitions by performing the show’s soundtracks. Many of the young people who grew up watching her as the red-haired arts student Cat Valentine on Victorious would become fans of her pop career – or, as they call themselves, the Arianators.

As she outgrew her child-star status, Grande’s lyrics became more sexually suggestive. Recent songs such as “Side to Side” and “Everyday” are more explicit than any of her previous hits. She has repeatedly insisted that young women should be able to speak openly about sex and feel empowered, not objectified.

“Expressing sexuality in art is not an invitation for disrespect,” she tweeted in December. “We are not objects or prizes. We are QUEENS.”

Grande also has a reputation as something of a gay icon. She has advertised her records on the gay dating app Grindr, headlined shows at Pride Week in New York, and released a single and a lipstick to raise money for LGBTQ charities.

Cassy, a 19-year-old film student and fan, told me the fanbase is “made mostly of young women from 14-23, but I run into guys and non-binary fans all the time.”

“It’s pretty well known that Ariana has got a LGBTQ+ fan base. She’s so outspoken about it and that’s what draws us to her. Because she’s accepting of everyone, no matter who you are.”

Like many child actresses-turned-pop star, Grande has a fan base skewed towards the young and female: teenage and pre-teen girls are by far the majority of her most dedicated supporters. A writer on the Phoenix New Times described the typical Ariana Grande crowd as “pre-tween, tweens, teens, young gay (and fabulous) men, moms with cat ears, and multiple candidates for father of the year”. The Arianators form tight-knit groups on social media. I spoke to several over Twitter after the attack.

Arena concerts, which often have more relaxed age restrictions than nightlife venues, have long been a safe space for children, young people and teenage girls. They provide a secure place for concert-goers to dress up, experiment, play with burgeoning sexualities, dance, scream and cry: to flirt with an adult life still slightly out of reach. Glitter-streaked tears stream down the unapologetic faces of fans touched by an emotion bigger than themselves. It is appalling, if grimly predictable, to see children, teenage girls and young gay men targeted by agents of regressive ideologies for expressing themselves so joyfully. On 23 May, Isis claimed the attack.

Andréa, a 17-year-old fan from France, told me about her first experience of a Grande concert. “It was incredible,” she said. “Everyone was so kind, excited and happy. We really are like a family.”

The fans are devastated by Monday’s bombing. Thousands of messages appeared on social media to commemorate those who lost their lives. “As an Arianator,” Alexandre, aged 16, told me, “I’m really sad and I’m scared.”

“We’re all taking it really hard,” Cassy said. “We’re a family and we lost 22 members of that family last night.”

Ariana began her gig in Manchester with the song that has opened every night of her current tour: “Be Alright”. In it, she repeatedly reassures the crowd, “We’re gonna be all right.” It’s a phrase that her fans are clinging to after the attack. So, too, are the lyrics of “Better Days”, by Grande and her support act Victoria Monét, which was also performed the night of the explosion. “There’s a war right outside our window,” the words go. “I can hear the sirens . . ./I can hear the children crying . . ./I’m hoping for better days . . .”

“It’s hit us all very hard because we’ve lost some of our own,” said one Arianator who runs a popular Twitter account about the tour. “People we interacted with on a daily basis. People that just wanted to have a night of fun. These are dark times, but we are looking forward to better days.”

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 25 May 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Why Islamic State targets Britain

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