Think of the children! What happened when politicians took to BuzzFeed and Facebook to argue about the EU?

Penny Mordaunt, Nicola Sturgeon, Nigel Farage and David Cameron appeared on BuzzFeed’s live Facebook town hall event to make their cases to a young audience for and against Europe.

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We all know how concerned politicians are about the yoof voting in the EU referendum. Less likely to vote, but apparently more likely to be in favour of Remain, young people’s last-minute applications to register – and the influence of Facebook – have been torturing curmudgeonly middle-aged politicos on either side of the debate all week.

So BuzzFeed’s live town hall event, streamed on Facebook with a useful real-time Angry Face/Heart emoji barometer, couldn’t have come at a better time. Where else would our desperate politicians find young people to talk to? And how else could they win people over who do their shirts up all the way to the top?

“Bollocks,” is how BuzzFeed’s own youthful presenters – political journos Jim Waterson and Emily Ashton – described stats used by both campaigns, kicking off proceedings like mildly rock ‘n’ roll Blue Peter presenters.

Penny Mordaunt

First up was Penny Mordaunt, the armed forces minister, who is in favour of leaving the EU. Some expressed surprise that such an obscure government figure received so many viewers (78k views on the last count). But let's not forget she's best known for appearing on Splash! and making a “cock” joke in the Commons. Perhaps more surprising is how many more Hearts than Angry Faces she received from Facebook’s audience. As the BuzzFeed UK editor tweeted:

Penny Mordaunt’s Facebook score:

Nicola Sturgeon

Next up was Nicola Sturgeon. Called “hypocritical” for sharing the fear tactics the Tories used against her in the Scottish referendum, and asked if she was now a “unionist”, by a couple of rather ruthless young audience members in edgy glasses, Sturgeon handled the questions with good humour.

Even with the kind help of questions from an incongruously middle-aged white bloke (a few too many of these cropped up throughout the Q&As; they really do get everywhere, don’t they?), they were unable to draw her on sharing a platform with the Tories – and she even managed to get a dig at Westminster in there: “I think if there's a problem with unelected people making laws, it's the House of Lords, not the European Union.”

Nicola Sturgeon’s Facebook score:

Nigel Farage

When “the EU’s most bantersome nemesis” (BuzzFeed’s words, not mine) Nigel Farage was announced, the very prospect of him caused booing and hissing from the audience. But when he came on, arms splayed, grin fixed, like a disillusioned clown at a children’s party, the cheers and laughter were louder.

He wasn’t in the clear for long though. The first question was essentially: are you racist? And that was put to the Ukip leader by a Leave voter. He somehow managed to answer this with the least appealing entreaty to young Brits ever: “Come on, let’s have some boos at the BBC.” Silence ensued.

His next challenge was a question about sexism in his party. And then xenophobia. “That is how immigration worked,” he told his questioner, Dinah, after a long answer involving the word “colonies”. “I know how it worked,” she replied, sighing a sigh for everyone who’s ever been Nigesplained.

One of the following questions was about women’s rights, to which he gawped and spluttered – like a frog being squeezed round the middle – “I hear these arguments about women’s rights…”, gabbled a bit while trying to his head round the concept of equality, and concluded: “I think we are a civilised country.”

Nigel Farage’s Facebook score:

David Cameron

The Prime Minister, who once called his hosts “The BuzzFeed”, immediately started receiving hundreds more Angry Faces from his Facebook audience than any of the previous speakers. He doesn’t naturally gel with a young audience. But today he was wearing a shirt with a vague checked pattern, and no tie. So he was as ready as he’d ever be.

First of all, he was hammered on the perceived lack of information out there about arguments for and against. “It’s in the Treasury’s analysis! It’s in the Balance of Competences review!” Cameron cried, incredulously. Silly children.

“You’ve fucked every fucking thing up in the country,” Yasmin informed Cameron. As a lip-ring and wrist-tattoo bearer, even a tieless PM clearly wasn’t going to cut it for her. “Dodgy Dave,” she concluded. But they made friends in the end. Well, they both agreed on Britain staying in the EU. Which is basically friendship these days.

David Cameron’s Facebook score:

***

So what did we learn? The kidz have more love for politicians than we think (there were far more Hearts than Angry Faces for all of those who appeared apart from Cameron). Young people ask difficult questions and are not afraid to argue (or swear) back at politicians. And BuzzFeed is refreshingly honest in its punditry: “Alberto, will you just say some words at me about the economy please?”

Watch all the debates on BuzzFeed UK’s Facebook page.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.