“You’re getting on a bit”: Sheila Hancock steals the show in Channel 4’s chaotic celebrity EU debate

Hours of crazed Z-list melodrama, with second-tier politicians occasionally interrupted by furious celebrities you’ve nearly heard of.

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In what played out like a bizarre budget Celebrity Big Brother where they only fight about sovereignty, and you don’t get to vote them out, Channel 4 hosted the final EU referendum debate tonight. (Well, the last one for 24 hours before campaigning immediately resumes after the result and net migration massively drops because everyone leaves the country. But it was a nice thought).

The idea was to bring voices from different industries into the conversation, as the vote isn’t “only about politicians”. So on came Yvette Cooper, Louise Mensch and Ann Widdecombe. To be fair, the rapper Akala joined them. They needed someone to quote facts.

It continued like this throughout the one and a half hours of crazed Z-list melodrama, with second-tier politicians repeating the same lines occasionally interspersed with furious celebrities you’ve nearly heard of.

Its host, Jeremy Paxman was like the lone disembodied voice in the diary room. But less soothing, and far less in control.

“I’VE BEEN SITTING HERE QUIETLY,” said the Sixties singer and audience member Sandie Shaw, loudly, when Paxman attempted to chair a panel about security. “I AM AN ARTIST.”

“We’re supposed to be talking about security, not your music career,” retorted the inevitable Julia Hartley-Brewer.

“There’s not much more to give” immigrants in Britain, added that boy from Outnumbered. Which was very unrealistic adlibbing, because the family on that show is obviously Lib Dem.

Edwina Currie yelled that the wine bought in by Wetherspoons boss and ubiquitous euroranter Tim Martin is “RUBBISH”. “That’s a very funny joke,” he responded, as it slowly dawned on him that the business model of his cheap booze empire had been rumbled.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but you’re getting on a bit,” Paxman sneered at Sheila Hancock. She responded graciously, by making the speech of the campaign:

 

“I’m probably the oldest person here,” she smiled. “NO YOU’RE NOT!” heckled Nigel Lawson from the crowd.

Then ex-Downing Street blue-sky thinker Steve Hilton did some gesticulating from beneath his short-sleeved bomber and box-fresh trainers – before giving way to the former breakfast TV presenter Selina Scott, who FINALLY spoke up for the two-month-old lambs who suffer personally at the hands of barbaric Brussels bureaucrats. She concluded that there would be no point in her voting ever again if we Remain.

Alex Salmond and Alastair Campbell said some things.

Katie Price argued that the debate had made her “more confused” about the issues. Speaking for the nation, there.

But congratulations to Channel 4 for putting on the truest, most representative debate so far – the mayhem perfectly encapsulated the entirety of the EU referendum campaign: unnecessarily chaotic, lots of shouting, weird celebrity endorsements, poorly umpired, inappropriate interventions, and groans from people on the sidelines who are just as unbearable as the experts they purport to loathe.

Happy voting!

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.

She co-hosts the New Statesman podcast, discussing the latest in UK politics.

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