Anxious viewers tuned into Question Time last night to watch live coverage of the ongoing Nigel Farage crisis. Quite a week for the Ukip leader. Up and down. In and out. And back in again. His pitch for a Westminster power-base imploded on election day. And he promptly quit, as promised. But his resignation fared no better than his parliamentary campaign. His withdrawal was rejected. Won’t anything go right for him?
He explained to a glum audience in Uxbridge that after losing South Thanet he retreated to ‘a darkened room’ to examine his future.
‘I was going to walk out of there a free man but they dragged me back!’ This jaunty account received not a bat’s squeak of laughter from the crowd. Chairman Dimbleby asked him about the insults recently flung by an envious henchman. Is he really ‘snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive’?
Farage tweaked this image a bit. ‘I try never to be photographed without a pint of beer and a big smile.’ A refreshing response to an attack on your reputation. Remind the voters that you’re constantly getting drunk, at noon, on camera.
Question Time’s ‘fatuous celebrity’ quota was filled by Brian May. The rebel pensioner showed up wearing Isaac Newton’s wig and a look of barely concealed exasperation. Everything he said came out with an agonised sigh. His plan for a future Labour victory will involve a return to ‘the days of Aneurin Bevin’. He said Labour must be the party of ‘the working man’ and confront the Tories as the party of the ‘the rich man’. (Women appear not to feature in the rock god’s prospectus). Then he attacked ‘aspiration’ which shouldn’t involve ‘money’ but the creation of ‘great things’ like music and paintings. And he expressed his support for an early referendum on fox-hunting. There ended his pitch to be hired as a Labour strategist.
The official Labour wonk, pointy-faced Action Man Tristram Hunt, very nearly made party history. He came close to expressing contrition for his party’s failings by admitting that they overspent while in power. Huge cheers. Thunderous applause. Pigeons died. But we mustn’t blame Labour, he went on, for its profligacy. The true cause was ‘an overdependence on financial services for our tax take'. Ah. The fatcats were to blame. Those miscreant hedgies corrupted Labour with too much largesse. That at least is Action Man’s excuse. Will it do? No it won’t. We need a full and frank apology from the voters to Labour for not letting them re-crash the economy.
The Short money came up too. Short money is a bung to opposition parties because they’re permanently short. Funds may only be spent on research, policy reviews and highly-qualified staff, (ie lunches, awaydays and foxy interns). Ukip qualifies for 650k of this cash but the party’s only MP, Douglas Carswell, is in a monastic mood. He says the money isn’t his. It’s ours. Ukip says the money isn’t ours. Nor is it Carswell’s. It’s Ukip's.
But Farage dropped a bombshell onto this log-jam. He said he didn’t want Ukip to be seen ‘grubbing around for public money like the other parties.’ So he’ll recommend that they reject the entire package and raise a similar sum from private donations. Crikey. Another refreshing response. But canny viewers noted the choice of words. ‘I will recommend,’ he said. ‘My recommendation.’ Not quite the same as a promise or a done deal. And that makes him sound like all the other parties.