Last night, the nation tuned into Question Time to watch a clash of the titans. Mary Creagh would be taking on Penny Mordaunt. What would the one-time NGO director have to say to the Shadow Secretary of State for International Development? The fur was sure to fly.
And to cap it all off, Nigel Farage and Russell Brand were on, too. But which one of the two came out on top? We split all the most important bits into categories and ranked them against each other.
LOLs: Russell Brand 3 - 1 Nigel Farage
Curiously low on lols. Both men had earned their places here and their platforms almost entirely through their charisma but Farage and Brand had clearly bought into the evening's hype, and hence wore the terrified look of two fighting cocks who know that only one would be exiting alive.
Derisory LOLs: Russell Brand 1 - 1 Nigel Farage
A derisory number. It was a weirdly bad night for incredulous laughter.
Spontaneous applause: Russell Brand 3 - 3 Nigel Farage
Grammar schools: that's where Farage keeps his secret weapon against the establishment. He mentioned them a couple of times and got a bit of a clap on the second one. More predictably, it turns out Canterbury – where the programme was being filmed – loves a bit of "it's not racist, it's about control of our borders" invective as much as the next down-at-heel Kent town.
Meanwhile, even though Russell used the usual "bankers' bonuses" diatribe with little finesse, he still managed to raise the odd Pavlovian cheer with it. Most visibly, he brought the crowd towards him with his "pound shop Enoch Powell" rant.
Boos: Russell Brand 0 - 2 Nigel Farage
Certain sections of the audience didn't take too kindly to Nigel's ideas about how we could deport all those immigrants to resettlement camps in the East.
It was a night for signature moves:
– The grand arm sweep (right arm sweeps out and up away from him).
– The dart throw (thumb and forefinger form a hoop, it comes in front of his face as he leans forward and thrusts the hand in the direction of his opponent).
– The chair flounce (sitting back in chair, toying with hair, rocking busily from side to side).
– The innocent UKIP Christ (arms wide open, shrugging).
– Laughing in the dark (eyes shut, mouth wide open).
– The staggered newt (lean back, eyes and mouth open as wide as possible, arms straight by side).
Let's call it a draw.
Russell Brand 1 – 2 Nigel Farage
As ever, the night's real stars were the X Factor-style audience participators. Despite looking like the kind of Kentish geezer who could go down the Hare & Hounds with Russ, one disabled guy with a stutter turned out to be pro-Nigel, encouraging Russ to have the guts to stand for parliament if he was such a big man ("I'd be worried I'd turn into them, mate."). "I never heard Nigel say anything against the disabled," he said. "I never have," Nigel confirmed. So that's nice, then.
Meanwhile, there was a shouty woman in the audience who was exactly the sort of supporter no one wants on their team, uninvitedly roaring that Farage is a racist to the point where the rest of the audience made a long, low hissing sound, like a cobra rearing up to strike.
WHICH OF THEM SEEMED LIKE MORE OF A CONSPIRACY THEORIST?
Brand seemed to have wandered on set determined to make up for all of those times when otherwise sensible people thought he was a bright spark deep down, if a bit ostentatiously pretentious. Defensively or offensively, his chief tactic seemed to be linking Nigel Farage to the shadowy underworld of City traders, with its shadowy Birley sandwich bars and secretive discarded copies of City AM. "Your friends in the city" was a line he repeated time and again, jabbing at Farage, a man who last worked in metals trading in 1991.
Farage was probably gushing with joy by that point. Having come on bricking himself that Russy would stir up the hornet's nest and they'd sting his political career to death on live TV, he began to realise that, rather than retaliate, all he had to do was ride out these mistimed barbs and he'd won.
Farage takes this round.
WHICH OF THEM PUSHED THEIR "MAN OF THE PEOPLE" CREDENTIALS HARDEST?
It is the most English of reactions to feel you must state: "I went to a comprehensive, me" any time you are asked a question about education. Russell came good on this. Russ won this round by revealing that he'd gone and purposely looked up the fees for Nigel's alma mater, Dulwich College – some £40,000 a year, mate.
INTERACTING WITH WOMEN ON THE PANEL
As Russell started shouting again in the nervous, over-voluble opening bit, Mary Creagh, already speaking, gave him a direct ticking off. "It's one of the things people object to on these programmes," said Mary. "Shouting across women." Creagh wasn't just talking for herself, she was actually striking a blow for shadow cabinet ministers everywhere.
This was the moment when Brand looked like he knew he'd done a diplomatic incident. You could see him imagining that the massed ranks of Twitter Woman were going to come down and T-Rex his head and suck out the sticky red goo inside. Watch him: he visibly ducks. He apologises in a more panicked way than his louche persona should allow. In one moment, he no longer looked like divine pantheistic sex creature Russell Brand. He looked like a bloke from Grays, Essex, who has been given a lottery ticket to take his place up out of the audience, and suddenly he don't like it one bit.
THE CROWBARRING OF AGENDAS
Was there anything other than agenda on display here? Russell's ability to turn the usual dull-as-piss NHS question into more frothing about banker's bonuses; Nigel's ability to turn a perfectly innocent question about whether Britain is too crowded into a showcase for UKIP's policies on controlling our borders. Whatever elegant, nuanced strategies Camilla Cavendish had for efficacy in public-private partnerships, the whole evening summed somehow into two men shouting BANKERS! and MIGRANTS! at each other. 0-0.
USE OF LANGUAGE
Rather than his usual loquacious self, Brand came across a little stumbly. "I think that's a good question, mate," he blurted. By the time we got to the final question on grammar schools, he was reduced to burbling about how he wasn't too up on things, like, and retreating ever-more into his geezer schtick shell.
Meanwhile, Farage seemed to have had one too many After Eights with his port at the Goldalming golf club supper. He was subdued, slow and low. Didn't he used to have things to say that sounded like they weren't rote? Wasn't that how he made his name? Despite his anti-establishment patter, if anyone sounded like a career politician last night, it was Farage and his increasingly rehearsed stock of soundbytes.
It's a win for Brand on this count.
CUSSING EACH OTHER DIRECTLY
Brand landed the only potential knockout. His "pound shop Enoch Powell", despite being offensive to some of Britain's hard-working value store owners, was being recycled round the internet's tumble dryer within minutes. Farage instantly knew it. It was the moment he'd been dreading. The unflappable man who once put a pint of beer on his head to amuse photographers suddenly looked like someone had hung a black cloud over his cranium.
And what had Nigel got in his own tank? "You gin-stinking long-hair; you think you can get away with this just because of The Beatles. Well, I'd put you straight back into National Service if it were up to me," is a line he left by the side of his plate. No, he stuck to his high moral line.
ALLEGATIONS OF HYPOCRISY
Despite falling out with a Channel 4 News journalist very publicly over it last week, Brand's swanky pad in Shoreditch didn't come up once. Neither did Farage's famously German wife. Farage perhaps felt that any talk of what-it-costs was a gun that could be turned back on him in an instant.
HATING ON THE MAINSTREAM
While the purpose of the night had entirely been to give these two self-appointed radicals the chance to inject their invective like Botox into the brow of Britain's Dignitased political discourse, it was 2-0 to the mainstream on the evidence.
After years of an electorate crying out, in Russ's words, "give us something to vote for, mate", all is forgiven. Bland doughy Penny Mordaunt. Stern schoolmarmish Mary Creagh. They're the future we all chose. And maybe we could put Camilla Cavendish in an orange rosette and flog her off to the voters of South Thanet? Never have the tedious opinions of Britain's political mainstream sounded so much like rain in the desert as they do tonight. Yes, let's hang on to that vague social democratic consensus of bickering over who will eliminate the deficit in 2020 and who will do it in 2019 and who really, really, really loves the NHS with knobs on. That's what we always wanted – we just never knew it.
"Mary Creagh" was trending by midnight. "Russell Brand" was not. But by 12:15, #RIPRosy was trending higher than them both.
RIP, Rosy. RIP, Russell's gravitas. Hasta luego, Nigel's forward march. It was a fun evening of sound and fury, one of the best of the year, in fact. But the significance? Not much.
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