Nigel Farage has been involved in another astonishing row that has rocked the world of politics to its core. The UKIP leader preferred to go to work Monday rather than engage in a confected Sky News-Facebook Stand Up Be Counted leadership debate. I don’t know how he sleeps at night. I mean, really.
What an opportunity Farage missed while he fulfilled his duties as an MEP in Brussels. The colour, the movement, the anger, the pathos and the unrestrained self-regard that only a roomful of earnestly questioning 16-25-year-old yoofs can provide.
One by one they lined up to ask questions of the leaders of the major political parties. And the Greens. In the process, viewers were presented with a snapshot of a clueless bunch of pretenders determined to put their best foot forward ahead of the approaching General Election. Take Ed Miliband. Seems he has been caring about the world for as long as he can remember. To Ed, that is a key component of his electoral appeal.
Caring, so caring, as he has risen effortlessly from school to posh university to political adviser/spin doctor to a cozy seat in Westminster. This is how the Labour leader answered a question about just what he was like as a tearaway teenager, age 18, ready to make his mark on the world.
ED: “I cared a lot about… er… the world. I was actually living in America for a time working in the media, just before going to university. I was actually an intern. I was also interested in British politics and global issues and what was happening in the world”.
What was he doing when he wasn’t caring about the planet and eager to really have a wild and crazy time?
ED: “What did I do on a night out? I did some things that most teenagers did, I drank a bit too much, you know, um, but I grew up in a household where you were told to care about the world…”
Caring does not seem to extend to anyone with the temerity to challenge Mr Miliband about his fitness to govern. Which is why he chose to have a swipe at Boots chairman Stefano Pessina. On the weekend, Monaco-based Mr Pessina said Mr Miliband’s plans are “not helpful for business, not helpful for the country and in the end it probably won’t be helpful for them”.
The Labour leader, a millionaire in his own right, clearly thought this the moment to go from caring Ed to carping Ed.
ED: “Yesterday, the chairman of Boots started telling people how to vote in the General Election. The chairman of Boots lives in Monaco and doesn’t pay British taxes.
“I don’t think people should take kindly to being told how to vote by someone who avoids paying his taxes.”
One rich bloke shutting down another rich bloke. This is what passes for political debate in the current febrile state of British politics.
Speaking of the well off, Nick Clegg used the televised meeting to show how much he cared about politicians keeping their promises when he was asked why the Liberal Democrats’ singularly failed on the pledge to scrap university fees following the 2010 General Election.
CLEGG: “Of course I apologise for the fact that particular policy of my party we could not implement.”
Was he apologising for not fulfilling a promise, for making it in the first place, or for the fact that he was caught out? We’ll never know. That’s politics for you.
Dave Cameron also stepped into the white-hot glare of Sky News selfie sticks but seemed strangely subdued by it all. Mollified even.
Once he had faced a question about the price of tampons (really) he was called to explain why Britain chose to pay a tribute to the departed Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz last month. The Prime Minister was asked: “Why did Britain fly the Saudi flag at half-mast if the country has such an appalling human rights record?”
DAVE: “We don’t agree with lots of things that the Saudis do. We don’t agree with the way they treat people, for instance criminals. We make clear those differences.
“But when the King died, as a mark of respect, we thought it was right to show that respect.”
Yes. Respect, Dave. You might not agree with the politics of Saudi Arabia but you’ll be darned if anyone will stop you or your government from grovelling before one of the biggest defence budgets in the Middle East.
The fun didn’t end there. The Greens’ Natalie Bennett chose her moment to reveal that she wanted “peaceful political revolution” and that she had been a feminist since the age of five. That aim surely must have been enhanced during her education at exclusive MLC School in her hometown of Sydney, Australia.
This all female institution used to be known by its full title of Methodist Ladies College and was founded in in 1886 as a conduit to supply suitably educated Christian girls to study at the University of Sydney. Something Bennett duly fulfilled before embarking on a career as a professional student and sometime journalist before deciding on a giddy career as a politician and leader of her small but perfectly formed party (membership free/just apply and they’ll pay your dues for you. Just like that!).
Which brings us to UKIP.
By simply staying away from that lot, Nigel Farage and by extension UKIP have never looked more appealing as a genuine alternative for voters. The party is an outsider fighting through a sea of political mediocrity and will always look better if it can stand apart from the established Westminster elites.
At least until the day the Conservatives come crawling after the election and a hung Parliament sees them begging for UKIP help to form a government.
Then all bets will be off.