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.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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