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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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.