THERE was a moment in Tuesday’s ludicrous ITV Leaders’ Debate where Corbyn and Johnson were asked which world leader they most admired. I forget what Magic Grandpa’s answer was – Nicolas Maduro or Kim Jong-un, I’m guessing. But I vividly recall Boris’s because you could actually see his brain whirring as he went through the various options.
‘Donald Trump? Probably the most deserving candidate, but I’d be pilloried if I went there.’
‘Justin Trudeau? Perfect opportunity for a hilarious joke about Canada’s first black Prime Minister . . .’
‘Erdogan? Well, I did write the most splendidly amusing limerick about him, though I say it myself . . .’
Eventually, of course, he settled for the safe, boring, insincere option: one that banged home the approved campaign message while simultaneously offering no opinion that could possibly be construed as a genuinely held personal one.
‘I nominate the 27 heads of the EU member states for all supporting my withdrawal agreement.’
His campaign advisers no doubt cheered: the key to winning elections, as we all know, is to keep ramming home the same phrases, over and over, far beyond the point where everyone is sick of them. And very obviously the Tories’ strategy is to emphasise the importance of Boris’s deal in delivering Brexit.
But the rest of us will have groaned. Boris is so much more entertaining when he’s off-piste and near the knuckle. This was more like watching a chained bear being forced to do its dance. Sad, demeaning, unnatural.
Does anyone outside the Westminster bubble actually watch this tosh? God, I hope not. I watch on sufferance because it’s my job. But the thought that real people might watch it for entertainment or, worse, to help them decide which way to vote I find absolutely terrifying.
What, after all, do these charades tell us about politicians except how good they are at lying, virtue-signalling and tactical evasion? One questioner from the audience – clearly delighted with his own perspicacity and trenchancy, as people who ask questions in the audience are, like this is the moment they’ve been preparing for all their lives – thought he’d come up with a zinger: ‘How can we trust you?’ Pillock. You can’t! That’s the whole point. These are politicians on the election trail. They’ll say anything.
Yet still they get applauded for it. Actual serious people – Westminster commentators who are supposed to guide us through the maze of politics – sit rapt through this utter tosh, nodding sagely, taking notes, forming opinions as if any of this matters. Who answered the silly Christmas present question better: Corbyn, by giving Boris A Christmas Carol to make the point that all Conservatives are heartless Scrooges, or Boris, by giving him first his Withdrawal Agreement, then some damson jam? Who, frankly, cares?
It’s worse than a bad joke: this is our country’s future at stake. They say we get the politicians we deserve but I’m not sure I agree with that masochistic line. What we actually get is the politicians our broken, facile, relentlessly left-drifting media culture inflicts on us.
Why, always, must these debates dwell at such length on the NHS? And why do the questions always treat leftist cultural assumptions about the NHS as the reasonable middle ground? So, for example, you’ll never, ever hear a politician of any hue being put on the spot about (relatively dismal) cancer survival outcomes, or about the massive inefficiencies of the world’s third biggest employer (allegedly after the Chinese army and the Indian state railways) or the pressure caused by health tourism. Always, but always, it’s the default, BBC-issue question – ‘Why isn’t the government spending more money?’ – or some nonsense cooked up in Labour HQ along the lines of ‘And can you promise our viewers that there are no plans to sell our NHS to Donald Trump?’
The political effect of this is toxic. Not only does it mean that any sensible, balanced debate about improving the NHS, as opposed to just chucking more taxpayer dosh into the money pit, is verboten on TV, in much the same way as immigration ever since Rivers of Blood. But also it means that no one on the Conservative side of the argument has the incentive, let alone the balls, to do anything other than try to compete with Labour as to who can make the most extravagant spending promises – which of course is what Boris and co are doing now and which future generations will come to rue.
Since every TV moderator out there apart from Andrew Neil shares the same lefty, right-on, mostly Oxbridge-educated, big state PC cultural assumptions, this is never going to change.
And it’s no good leaving it to the audience to ask the questions because they’re even worse, especially if it’s on the BBC. Did you see the Question Time special with Nigel Farage? The one and only time I appeared on Question Time I got a long explanation from one of the bookers about all the trouble they go to about ensuring that the audience is exactly balanced along party political, sex, race, age, etc lines. Yeah, right. I reckon for this particular edition, the audience division went roughly: one third Guardian readers; one third Momentum members; one third loons with FBPE (ie Remainer nutcase) on their Twitter profile. (Subsequently it emerged that at least two of the cackling harpies who gave Farage a hard time were Corbynista activists). He did amazingly well under the circumstances – he was far more authentic and honest and combative than Corbyn and Boris were. Then again, he can afford to be: he’s not standing for election, is he?