Technically, since it featured a political journalist questioning a political figure, Andrew Marr’s chat with Arron Banks on BBC One this morning qualified as a political interview.
But it just didn’t feel that way. It felt like a study of nihilistic pointlessness as two angry men struggled to keep their tempers during a circuitous cat and mouse chase around blind alleys that sounded deceptively like total gibberish.
Its significance, if any, was buried deep beneath the dialogue.
This was a Pinter play, in other words, and not a good one. It was a one-act script he wrote in the sixth form, styling it as an interview between a cross minor public school headmaster and the smirking bully he knows has behaved appallingly, but whom he lacks the evidence to expel, or the prosecutorial chops to break under cross-examination.
Seldom has so much angst been so wasted on such a non-event. For days the BBC was attacked for giving Banks the platform to dismiss allegations of illegally funding the Leave.EU campaign, as under investigation by the National Crime Agency.
Dismiss them he duly did, but in such broad and obtuse terms as to be irrelevant to public opinion and any subsequent prosecution.
Time and again Marr asked after the true source of the £8m Banks donated to his Leave.EU campaign. Time and again, Banks bemused him with references to various insurance companies that share the name Rock. He insisted the money was all his and all legit. Not a penny came from the Isle of Man. Not a kopek, more to the point, originated in the Russian Federation. On this, he has been – what else? – “absolutely clear”.
Time may or may not have something different to say about that. But if Banks ever finds himself in the dock, he will discover that “attack-is-the-only-form-of-defence” bluster won’t deflect or bamboozle a QC as it did Andrew Marr.
Marr is a very clever guy with a range of journalistic strengths. His weak spot is the aggressive interview, which may explain why Banks picked him. The icily forensic Andrew Neil or the LBC foxhound James O’Brien would have cornered him and possibly inflicted serious damage.
Increasingly flustered as he stumbled through Banks’ pea souper of obfuscation, Marr never landed a jab until the final bell. God only knows why he waited until seconds remained to raise Banks’ admission that he’d have voted Remain had he known in advance what Brexit would entail.
Ah well, heaven loveth the sinner that repenteth, though it would loveth this one even more if he repented by donating £8m – from one of his countless Rocks or wherever – to the Final Say campaign.
This seems unlikely. You don’t add a doctorate in Bannon Studies to a summa cum laude degree in media studies from Trump University by being an apologist. This archetype of vindictive brashness barely disguised in the chiffon cloak of faux bonhomie spews conspiracy theories and toxic clouds of privileged white boy victimhood in the fashion of his American mentors.
That such a tiny, transparent creature could play such a large part in shaping Britain’s future is a tragicomic anomaly to intrigue tomorrow’s historians. Half a century ago, he’d probably have taken the middle class chancer’s traditional career path. He’d have adopted the rank of Captain and polished the buttons on his blazer to challenge Terry-Thomas for salesman of the month at the Farage Garage (choicest purveyor of Aston Martins with 27 previous careful owners).
Today, somehow, he is a historical figure with the hope that Hollywood will immortalise him in that longingly awaited Bad Boys of Brexit movie. Things have gone quiet on that front lately. If this Brexit Boy has been bad enough to warrant criminal charges, that might put the project back on the front-burner. So some consolation there.
But of course if there ever is a trial worthy of a footnote in the history books, it will come too late to be any more meaningful than this pitiful interview.
It shouldn’t be this way. With prima facie evidence that the referendum result was influenced by dodgy funding, a high functioning democracy would ape the mature Pinter. It would insert a languid pause into the Brexit process until it was determined whether that influence was decisive.
Here, in the psychogeriatric care home of the democratic world, prey to every grifter who inveigles himself into the ward to flog overpriced funeral insurance, the patient in the high-backed plastic chair observes the disaster unfold with the livid impotence of Uncle Hector Salamanca ringing his bell in Breaking Bad.
No one who matters is listening. Behind her glass panel, Matron in Number 10 has her fingers in her ears. She may even have knowingly ignored the alarm before by shutting down an earlier investigation into Leave.EU funding, as she did over a previous alleged Russian intrusion (Alexander Litvinenko’s murder).
While the wheels of justice grind exceeding slow, Banks is a few short months from the realisation of the dream he now apparently reinterprets as a nightmare.
Long before he so briefly touched on that, Marr had been brushed aside by a wronged and innocent man with the gumption to point out that the Electoral Commission’s comment that Leave.EU’s loan structure was “not wholly untransparent” meant that it was in fact “wholly transparent”.
A linguistics expert might locate a flaw in that logic. Not being one of those, I’m happy to take him on trust on that, as on everything – and to confide the belief that on this form, as on all previous form, Aaron Banks is not wholly unrepulsive.
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