Insults, attacks and party political broadcasts as awful TV Brexit debate leaves EU entirely
Published 11/06/2016 | 02:30
ITV's EU debate was awful. I could've learned more about Brexit from watching 'Love Island' on ITV Two. The fault lay not with ITV - although the set looked drearily like a game of 15-to-1 - but with the Remain camp. Specifically Labour's Angela Eagle. Eagle decided this wasn't to be a debate about the EU but a debate about how awful Tories are.
Her persistent line of attack misdirected the other panellists and led to a wasted two hours talking about the NHS, housing and many other things that have nothing to do with the EU. Nicola Sturgeon joined in occasionally. Although at one point she appeared to roll her eyes when Eagle was speaking.
But, Tim, be serious. This debate was only half about the EU. That half of the debate was probably won by Leave who ruthlessly pursued their line about restoring self-government to Britain. That, in fact, is what this referendum is about. Leave says that Brexit would restore sovereignty. Remain says that sometimes it's worth sacrificing sovereignty for a little economic payback.
When it came to discussing what sovereignty actually is, both sides got it wrong. Leave insisted, as it always does, that it's about democracy - when it's not. North Korea is a sovereign state (who'd dare dispute that?!) but not democratic. Remain proved just as sloppy in their thinking when Eagle stated that it was about "having the confidence to go out into the world." Eagle, I suspect, doesn't know how to spell sovereignty. She probably thinks it's like Bitcoin or something.
For the record, sovereignty is simply this: the ability of a state to self-govern. Amber Rudd came closest to accurately defining it - adding that a man stranded on an island might be sovereign but is still starving. Rudd was the strongest performer on the Remain side and, one suspects, had been told she was allowed to go after Johnson as much as she liked. She made a crack about not wanting Boris to drive you home after a party. Quite what it was referring to, we could not tell. Remain threw lots of insults his way but they rarely stuck. He has a Teflon quality.
Indeed, this debate was also half about judging Johnson's fitness to be prime minister. Could he handle two hours of fact-slinging? Would he patronise the women? Would be get bored and wander off? In the end, he did well. Very well. He was on top of the data and threw facts out with ease. He wasn't afraid to attack Dave. And when the jokes came his way he brushed them off with a Reaganesque "there you go again". Most importantly, he was serious. Faced with a TV camera, Boris's temptation can be to seduce and amuse. On this occasion, he showed that he could convince, too. It was a fine first audition.
Not that he necessarily won the night. Gisela Stuart was Leave's most effective spokesperson. Partly because she is Labour and thus obviously not of the view that Brexit will lead to the end of women's suffrage and the return of slavery. Partly because she is German-born and, thus, unlikely to be anti-immigrant. But also because she spoke with reason rather than faux-passion. Nicola Sturgeon was her usual authoritative self. Eagle, as I may have already mentioned, was the pits. If the EU debate really matters as much as she claimed, she shouldn't have wasted our time with a political broadcast for the Labour Party. Her priority, one suspects, is to supplant Jeremy Corbyn as leader of Labour.
Never has a display of naked ambition been so tawdry, shameless and counter-productive. Biggest news of the night: Dennis Skinner has come out for Brexit. Evidently, he doesn't think it'll lead to World War III or child labour. Someone tell Angela. If they can get a word in. (©Daily Telegraph, London)