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Nigel Farage was the only winner from a chaotic election debate

l-r: Reform UK leader Nigel Farage, Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth, Liberal Democrats deputy leader Daisy Cooper, SNP Commons leader Stephen Flynn, Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner and Conservative Commons leader Penny Mordaunt. Credit: Getty

June 8, 2024 - 9:00am

So, here they were: the three you know, the three you don’t know, and Stephen Flynn, who is somewhere in between. Or, as Aris Roussinos put it, “4 HR managers, two Celts, and a Kentish Groyper”. Last night’s multi-party election debate — featuring Reform UK leader Nigel Farage, Plaid Cymru leader Rhun ap Iorwerth, Liberal Democrats deputy leader Daisy Cooper, SNP Commons leader Flynn, Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner and Conservative Commons leader Penny Mordaunt — was in some ways more interesting than the earlier Sunak-Starmer face-off, but it mainly rehashed familiar subjects.

An initial barrage between Mordaunt and Rayner raised an interesting question about Britain’s defence: which is more dangerous, having the Armed Forces under the control of Labour, which might fund them properly but has no credibility, or under the Conservatives, which still maintain some credibility but may not fund them properly?

Farage, following on from his dedicated broadcast yesterday, continued to capitalise on Rishi Sunak’s D-Day Dunkirk dip ’n’ dash as a wedge issue between the Prime Minister and literally everyone else in Britain. Then, as the questions swung to the NHS, new lows of political pandering were reached. One audience member had been thanked for the service of his father; now, they thanked a medical student for hers too.

Flynn pointed out that the SNP could be proud of its record on the NHS with record funding, the best-paid nursing staff and no strikes — but increasing backlogs, decreasing life expectancy and lower numbers of patients being treated all suggest that funding might not be the solution to the NHS’s woes.

When Farage suggested that the NHS model simply wasn’t working, Cooper of the Lib Dems argued that money — and not the model — was the real source of success. Which would be a great argument, if it weren’t for all those other healthcare systems out there that spend less than ours for better results. At one point, someone simply shouted: “National treasure”.

If leaders can’t articulate a compelling and unifying future, they fixate on who’s to blame for what’s wrong with the present. This has a trickle-down effect, fostering a more cynical and fractious society. If there was one winner from the debate, on grounds of format alone it was Farage, whose love of combative debate was evidently satisfied by a line-up which held him in contempt. He accused Mordaunt of having “front”, and when Green Party co-leader Carla Denyer claimed she had experience of how green energy could be profitable in her career as an engineer, he simply waited for a pause and said “subsidy”.

A telling moment came when Rhun ap Iorwerth accused both the Tories and Labour of speaking like Farage on immigration. A smile crept across the Reform figurehead’s face. Politicians may not be on his side, but the polling is: he knows he’s winning the argument. Farage has cut through at this election more than any other figure from the secondary parties, and last night it was clear why. Beyond some limited efforts by Denyer, who was hampered by her own use of obfuscating language, the others could only present themselves in opposition to one another.

They appeared to be an amorphous blob, arguing for minor changes within the confines of a political system increasingly unable to meet the public’s demands. Only Farage, and only momentarily at that, was able to articulate dissatisfaction with the existing settlement by placing himself outside the Overton Window of frontline politicians, just as he was on the edge of the line-up on stage. If nothing else, he managed to communicate that the solutions offered, and the “personalities” offering them, were a great deal more minor than the challenges Britain actually faces.

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AC Harper
AC Harper
10 days ago

It seems to me that most current politicians are using lessons learned from previous elections – trying to win over the uncommitted centre. But ‘the centre’ in politics has now been shown to be a soggy middle which is incapable of delivering good governance. Many of the electorate have realised this and want something better.
Perhaps Farage and Reform are not the way forward… but all the main parties have had a go and offer nothing different than a showy paint job. Someone, or a Party, with a different vision is bound to stand out.

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
10 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

The problem is that centrist rhetoric is going to give way to fairly hefty attacks on wealth: pensions, savings, property, shares, CGT, IHT reliefs are all on the table (Resolution Foundation useful leading indicator of direction of travel). If people vote for that, that’s fine. The problem is that they aren’t being told any of it.
Of course politicians have always lied by omission but the 2024 context is different – a lack of growth since 2008 has resulted in an angry, cynical society that is close to wanting to blow the system up. “Soggy middle” rhetoric unaligned with actions may not result in a simple eyebrow lift. It may not mean violence of course – as small examples, there is a small but meaningful brain drain going on and a meaningful withdrawal of labour amongst the £100k per annum class.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
9 days ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

Social Democracy was always going to end this way. The more the spending power of the state increases the more parasites it will attract until you reach the state we’re in now where the vast majority of the population are, over a lifetime, net recipients of state benefits and the productive sectors of the economy are simply no longer able to support the weight of their entitlements.

A Labour government now will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

T Bone
T Bone
9 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

The analysis here is correct. Just a note- A Leftist or Social Democrat reading this would hyperfocus on the one word you used and use it to negate the accuracy of the whole.

The State functioning as a parent creates mass dependency. Mass dependency negates the expectation of personal responsibility but that expectation is the precondition for a society that values independent agency and cognitive freedom.

Pedro the Exile
Pedro the Exile
9 days ago
Reply to  Susan Grabston

there is a small but meaningful brain drain going on and a meaningful withdrawal of labour amongst the £100k per annum class.
Certainly is and it may well turn into a tidal wave if Kneeler get sin and starts taxing the f…. out of anyone not on benefits.There is already evidence of investor capital outflow and at elast one major North Sea project has been put on hold.
So what do you do wehn your capital and human resources go on strike-double down.Its not ggoing to be pretty

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
10 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Isn’t ‘the centre’ ‘far right’ now?

Saul D
Saul D
9 days ago
Reply to  AC Harper

Isn’t the game to win over uncommitted Tory voters?
Of the four options available: abstain, vote Labour, vote Tory, vote Reform, abstain has been winning so far. So though ex-Tory voters are holding back from switching Labour, it leads to the same result as voting Labour.
Voting Tory again just isn’t going to happen, and up to now Reform has had the look and feel of a crackpot party, and worse than not actually voting. So Farage’s gamble is that he can make voting Reform a better option than abstaining to give the Tories the kicking they deserve.
What that means is, with FPTP, Reform might not get many seats, but if the ex-Tory-voter has the choice of abstaining with Labour getting in, or give a clear protest vote for Reform and Labour gets in, why not do the latter to better vent the discontent.
Farage will be hoping that with this type of logic, he might be able to move the opinion polls so Reform goes ahead of the Tories. And at that point he might even be able to completely collapse Tory vote with a wholesale switch to Reform. My guess is that he can’t do it – there’s a reason Conservatives are called conservative – but it’s a free shot and he’ll have a lot of fun trolling both parties along the way.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
9 days ago
Reply to  Saul D

Generally agree, but you haven’t been paying attention if you think Reform are a “crackpot party”. The manifesto suggests otherwise. Please respond with which of their clearly stated policies is”crackpot”.

John Tyler
John Tyler
9 days ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

I hate to say it, but you’re right!

Saul D
Saul D
9 days ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

I’m responding because you asked nicely though I said “The look and feel of a crackpot party.” Perhaps they’ve cleaned things up now, but that’s what they looked like with their candidate selection process – eg: https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/the-ten-candidates-dropped-by-reform/

Alan Osband
Alan Osband
8 days ago
Reply to  Saul D

No reason he can’t take Labour votes too . For people against mass migration he is the only option .

David Morley
David Morley
10 days ago

I’m afraid I came away from the debate thinking: is this the best, or second best, we can do. At least Farage was prepared to actually say stuff. You could tell what his position was.

Martin Bollis
Martin Bollis
9 days ago

If only we could have one of these. That would have been a debate worth watching.

https://www.thefp.com/p/bari-weiss-argentina-president-javier-milei

The Chainsaw Debates

Susan Grabston
Susan Grabston
10 days ago

Love that Aris quote. Thanks for making me smile.

Last edited 10 days ago by Susan Grabston
David Morley
David Morley
10 days ago

interesting question about Britain’s defence

This one was amusing, with Penny M getting close to arguing that defence was safer under the tories, because any potential enemy would perceive them as being more trigger happy than Labour.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
9 days ago
Reply to  David Morley

That’s the reason Trump is feared by potential US enemies. Right wingers might just defend their country.

Last edited 9 days ago by Ian Barton
David Lindsay
David Lindsay
9 days ago

Although it is mostly a Conservative thing while quite possibly definitive of the Liberal Democrats, it is a feature of all three main parties in England and all four in Scotland, and likely to become vastly more so with the impending Labour parliamentary intake.

I refer to the elevation of abysmal women politicians who were the objects of weird erotic crushes on the part of men whose formative sexual experiences had been with other teenage boys, or with deeply dodgy middle-aged men, or with both.

We all know the archetype. The lady’s not for turning, indeed. In this time, step forward, Penny Mordaunt. And then step back. As far back as possible. But there will be another one. There is always another one.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
9 days ago
Reply to  David Lindsay

Wow! Women can only be successful thanks to weird men? That’s a new one – and not even slightly misogynist. Well done.

Rob N
Rob N
9 days ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

He wasn’t talking about women rather ‘abysmal women politicians’.

Arkadian Arkadian
Arkadian Arkadian
9 days ago
Reply to  Rob N

Of which we’ve had many of late.
I was reading a tweet by an otherwise sensible journalist decrying how the election debate in Scotland was only between men. If you ask me, this is a step in the right direction…