On Question Time last week, I said I wanted to hug Michael Gove, the government chief whip. Yes, really. I said it and did it too after the programme ended. Gove was on the panel, as were Danny Alexander, Andy Burnham and Peter Hitchens of the Mail on Sunday. I have always found Mr Gove wrongheaded and obnoxiously self-righteous. So what prompted this sudden gush of affection? Gratitude, that's what.
Gove at full volume, defended immigrants with conviction and passion. After years, months and weeks of negative political discourse on immigration which debases us migrants, it was a relief to be appreciated and affirmed. Peter Hitchens thought this might be the start of a new romance or maybe a fairytale: the socialist throws her arms around a high Tory, they fly off on a winged white horse and live together happily ever after. Ain't gonna happen.
Mercifully, Gove and I diverged on most other subjects, sometimes furiously. But this interaction, and others too on this programme, proved that politics today is confusing, surprising and capricious. Voters turn and twist as if in a maze. Reality seems unreal, volatility has replaced traditional sang-froid and the democratic process is leading to unprecedented fragmentation.
Before the programme we were put in separate green rooms. Hitchens and I shared one, while the politicians had their own spaces where they watched the seven party leaders debating, perfectly controlled and directed by the wonder woman Julie Etchingham.
She, with Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett and Leanne Wood, made this feminist very proud. They were not only poised but unabashedly progressive and bold. Previously only powerful men have held forth. Now they can never again sideline female political presenters and politicians.
Nigel Farage now no longer bothers to hold in his bigotry. Revolted and infuriated by his comments, I briefly let rip. Hitchens, a good Christian (he might even had a bible with him), chastised me for my outburst. So we had a row. And another. But without personal malice. I would not normally share time and space with a rightwinger for so many hours. But these are extraordinary times. Hitchens, for example, was generous to Ed Miliband, not what one might expect.
TV leaders' debate 2015
TV leaders' debate 2015
1/8 The leaders' debate 2015
Green Party leader Natalie Bennett, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg, Ukip leader Nigel Farage, Labour leader Ed Miliband, Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Prime Minister David Cameron during the 7-way debate
2/8 David Cameron
David Cameron: "People who come here and work hard help make this a great country, but we do need immigration that's controlled and fair."
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3/8 Ed Miliband
Ed Miliband says that work 'doesn't pay' in Britain and says Labour would change that. He says David Cameron is talking rubbish.
4/8 Nick Clegg
Nick Clegg says there's "good immigration and bad immigration". "I want Britain to be open for business but not open to abuse".
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5/8 Nigel Farage
"Sixty per cent of [people with HIV] are not British nationals... I know there are some horrible things happening in many parts of the world, but what we need to do is put the NHS there for British families," says Nigel Farage
6/8 Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon says the PM is acting like a "petulant schoolchild threatening to leave".
7/8 Leanne Wood
Leanne Wood has a proposal: "I recognise there are many problems with the EU but Wales benefits from being a member".
8/8 Natalie Bennett
Natalie Bennett: "UN has asked us to take in Syrian refugees, we've taken in 143 Syrians, we should do more and our fair share"
Over the two hours, I did wonder where Douglas Carswell has gone. Not seem or heard much these days. Maybe the defection was a political mid life crisis – instead of a young mistress, he ran off with a new party – and he is now regretting it. He can’t have approved of Farage’s disgraceful remarks on HIV ‘foreigners’ who come as health tourists.
The programme was live (usually it is pre-recorded an hour or so before it goes on air) and the audience was engaged and buzzing. I praised the female leaders and got a big cheer from men and women. Feminism went mainstream briefly. Most people in the audience had seen it in action with their own eyes. Sturgeon was the most elegant, persuasive and believable of the line up while the other two women came across as thoughtful and genuine.
And yet a black man in the audience hadn't noticed them and didn't seem to have heard what they said. The invisibility of female talent is a persistent block to women’s advancement. For this chap, Farage was the winner, the real thing and all the rest who stood at podiums were fake, discreditable, masters and mistresses of spin. Oh he didn't agree with Mr Farage's policies and ideas. However, the Ukip leader's blokeish mannerisms and straight-talking style made him special. It is the cult of ‘authenticity’ and it works.
In his new book, Authenticity is a Con, the cultural critic Peter York deconstructs this potent concept. It is just another marketing tool, he warns. He met the Ukip leader once and came away thinking Farage had been ‘...just that little bit clever for, for someone so authentic’.
Yes, clever enough to convince many Ukip supporters that he is honest and anti-establishment. And, to my dismay, that included a black Briton too. Never mind the nasty message, it is the image that counts. If this black man reads this, he should get in touch. We need to talk about the views he breezily expressed, the effect of his words and what they implied.
Thank God for those white people in the audience not conned by Farage and who understood what his rhetoric is doing to the fragile bonds of our nation. One young woman, reminded the audience in a clear voice that this country once ruled over nations and plundered lands. Britons should remember that history and their continuing obligations to the descendents of subjugated peoples. These days one rarely hears such moral arguments. Such is the national hostility to diversity and migration that most decent white and black people have been silenced and cowed. But not this spirited lady.
And talking of history, the Scottish question turned out to be the most emotive. All the politicians laid into the SNP and Gove was so disrespectful, so intolerant of the nationalists (while being pompously nationalistic about the UK) that a Scottish lady complained about his tone and attitude.
I don’t understand this almost primitive hatred of Alex Salmond and now Sturgeon, who, since the debate took place, has been subjected to a media witchhunt. The leader of a legitimate political party is portrayed as a traitor and plotter as dangerous as Guy Fawkes. After the programme, I understood why so many Scots feel aggrieved.
With all this going on, it is impossible to predict the results and impossible too to imagine what our new parliament will do when it convenes again in the Commons. That is why this election is so important and why all citizens need to understand their vote matters more than it ever has before.Reuse content