David Cameron and Nick Clegg being absent, it was left to Ed Miliband to adopt a superior, “look-everyone-I’m-the-most-important-person-here” air at this frankly B team debate. The effect was that of a supply teacher who had been told, five minutes before the primary school assembly, that the head was on holiday and so he could read out the notices about one of the Year 1 pupils not flushing the toilet properly instead.
Nicola Sturgeon looked terrific in a slate grey silk suit; Ed wore a tie that matched it. Leanne Wood smiled radiantly in a sharply-tailored raspberry jacket over a pale pink dress, Farage wore a tie that matched her ensemble. The four of them looked unnervingly like the bride and groom’s parents. Natalie Bennett, in dull beige, completed the wedding picture of doom by looking like the bridesmaid who didn’t give a shit and was just waiting for the speeches to finish so she could go outside for a fag. (Note to self: start fashion blog.)
Blah, blah deficit, blah blah Cameron a disgrace for not turning up (applause), blah blah don’t quote the IFS at me, blah blah Cameron a disgrace again (no applause). Nobody mentioned Nick Clegg. How quickly we forget, eh?
There was a question about housing. “As a single parent, I’d like to know about your plans for social housing, and to tackle the housing crisis?” Nicola said the Tory plan to sell off housing association homes was one of the worst ideas she has heard. “Housing is one of the most important issues of this election.” Leanne said that council house sales aren’t allowed in Wales. Ed equivocated somewhat, saying Labour supported the right to buy, but Tory plans didn’t add up. Farage declared, jaw-droppingly, that “we should make sure that all new social housing is for UK nationals only” and added that he wanted to create a “brownfield sites register.” The possibility that he’d like to create a brown builders register to go with it went unsaid.
Nige was on a roll, telling the audience it was biased and anyway, the “real” audience was at home. Dimbleby looked outraged, but Nige shrugged and declared that anyway, the audience didn’t understand markets and that immigration contributed to the housing crisis. Everybody else on the panel looked at each other with “spot the loon” expressions.
Ed decided it was time he asserted his authority, inexplicably choosing to do this by adopting the world-weary tone and demeanour of a bored father home late from work, desperate to put his feet up and knock back a large gin and tonic but instead forced by his children to officiate at the burial of the family spaniel. “I believe…. that….you…cannot…buck… the… market…zzzzzz.”
What would it take to liven things up? A question about immigration, of course: “Are immigrants putting too much pressure on public services?” Nige looked like all his birthdays had come at once. The studio audience, however, looked like they were sat in the dock at the Old Bailey and had just been sentence to life imprisonment:
Ed stopped talking slowly and decided instead to look like the cover of a 1960s’ knitting pattern by casually leaning one elbow on his lectern. Back at Labour HQ, his advisors were shouting at the telly: “Ed! Don’t do that! It won’t end well!”
Suddenly they all woke up and started shouting at each other about the NHS. “You’re lying!” yelled Nigel to Ed. “Be quiet all of you!” yelped Dimbers. “Natalie?” “Yes, I think it was probably my turn,” she replied, primly.
Finally, a question about a hung parliament. Nige banged on about Europe. “My view is we should be self-confident, and if UKIP is in a position of influence, we should have a referendum.” There was more in this vein, but I’m afraid I tuned out. More shouting. “I will never, ever do a deal with the Tories,” declared Nicola, looking straight at Ed and practically asking him out on a date. Ed looked underwhelmed. “We’ve got very different views, Nicola.” It’s not you, it’s me. Let us unfollow one another on Twitter and never speak of this again.
Leanne couldn’t remember what her party wanted and read from her notes. “I will not prop up a Tory government.” Okay, got it. “But I won’t prop up a Labour government hell-bent on implemented Tory policies.” Er? Who will you prop up then? Natalie, determined not to be left out, delivered her party line. “I will not prop up a Tory government.” Back home in Downing Street, David choked on his whisky and soda and turned plaintively to Sam: “Why doesn’t anybody like me?”
Was that it? No, there was more. “I’ve fought Tories all my life,” shouted Ed, weirdly. “This is 2015!” yelped Nicola, refusing to give up. “We’ve got a CHANCE!”
Finally, the end was in sight. “I’ll fight for the little man,” declared Nige. “And, er, woman.” Ed stared straight into the camera and addressed Dave. “Debate me. One on one.” This bold suggestion was undermined somewhat by Dimbers then telling everyone that in two weeks’ time there would be an edition of Question Time with Ed, Nick AND Dave. Whoopee.